(4 / 5)
As a 15-year-old music obsessed kid back in 1974, I single-handedly annoyed family, neighbours and friends by blasting out certain vinly singles and albums over and over and over again, at full volume.
None more so than the Average White Band’s classic instrumental “Pick Up The Pieces”, which later went on to become one of my staple tracks as a nightclub DJ in Leicester in the late 70s and early 80s. All of that iconic band’s albums made their way into my collection one by one as the years passed by, timeless stuff I still spin at home on a regular basis today, but I never got to see them live, sadly.
As a Tower of Power fan, it is great that former lead singer of TOP, Brent Carter, is now singing with the current incarnation of AWB, which features only two original members, guitarists Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre.
While Hamish Stuart, Molly Duncan and Steve Ferrone have joined forces as The 360 Band, and dropped a beautiful piece of work in the form of their new album, “360”. Some finely crafted material and performances. It’s all here. The voice, the songs, the playing, the production. It misses nothing at all.
Hamish Stuart (guitar/vocals), Molly Duncan (saxophone) and Steve Ferrone (drums) are joined by an array of top session guys, who fit the project like a glove. The AWB three have individually and collectively played on recordings that have achieved combined sales approaching 30 million units. They represent exactly half of the original Average White Band whose striking brand of funk, soul and r&b produced seminal 70s and 80s cuts such as ‘Cut The Cake’, ‘Put It Where You Want It’, ‘Let’s Get Go Round Again’, ‘Person To Person’, ‘Feel No Fret’, ‘A Love Of Your Own’, ‘Stop the Rain’, ‘If I Ever Lose This Heaven’, ‘Cloudy’ and the previously mentioned ‘Pick Up The Pieces’.
AWB are one of the most sampled bands of all time. Artists such as Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Nas, Kool Keith, Erik B. & Rakim, Jurassic 5, Big Daddy Kane, A Tribe Called Quest and super producer Mark Ronson have all utilised their fantastic rhythms to great effect.
After the demise of The Average White Band in 1982, Hamish, Molly and Steve and went on to work with a stellar list of globally renowned artists including: Atlantic Starr, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, George Benson, Diana Ross, Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Eric Clapton, The Bee Gees, Whitney Houston and Tom Petty. The three were reunited after more than two decades – when Hamish and Molly travelled to LA in 2014 to support their old band mate Steve Ferrone, during his induction to the Drummer’s Hall of Fame.
Being back on stage together felt good, and the three men vowed to record together again, should the opportunity arise. The chance to create a brand new album came in 2015 when they were offered a deal by 3Ms Music to record new material during rehearsals for their sold out shows – ‘live on the studio floor’.
Aided and abetted by some of the UK’s most talented and respected musicians including: Steve Pearce (bass) Adam Phillips (guitar), Ross Stanley (keyboards), Andy Caine (guitar & vocals), Jim Watson (keyboards), Danny Cummings (percussion), Tom Walsh (trumpet and flugel), Neil Sidwell (trombone) and Hamish’s daughter: Emma (backing vocals).
Hamish, Molly and Steve return to the groove-laden soulful sounds that AWB were all about; impeccable vocals, quality songwriting, fat horns, slick arrangements, outstanding musicianship. I’ll resist the temptation to call this record a knockout, using the opening cut as an excuse: ‘Mighty Fall’ an affectionate tribute to the late great boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Molly and Steve each brought a song to the album and the rest is made up of a handful of songs from Hamish’s recent repertoire, plus a couple of classic covers. “Some Other Time”, is a Leonard Bernstein song, from the musical “On The Town”, which Hamish heard on a Bill Evans and Tony Bennett track from 1975. The penultimate cut, ‘Too Hip’, is an epic story about their friend and AWB’s original drummer Robbie McIntosh, who passed away tragically while on tour in 1974, from a Heroin overdose at a Hollywood Party.
The closer, “Just For A Thrill”, the second of the two covers, comes from one of the classic Ray Charles albums from the 50’s, ‘The Genius Of Ray Charles’, and was written by Louis Armstrong’s wife Lillian and Don Raye. A song suggested for this project by bass player Steve Pearce.
The material and the performances all shout out with passion, renewed energy and creativity. This really is no walk down memory lane for the money or stuck in a retro rut, harking back to yesteryear. This is more of the same as regards sheer class and great, great soul music, yes. But it is relevant to today too.
Nothing sticks out like a sore thumb from the nine cuts, an even listen which flows nicely. Really cool stuff from guys who can rightfully claim a place in music history and the label, ‘legendary’. Not sure what the other two ex-AWB guys are putting out lately, but they have a bloody hard to act follow after this.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’