Friday, November 26, 2010

The Best of Kimberley Rew
I've been a fan of singer, songwriter and guitarist Kimberley Rew for more than 25 years, but I've only just now heard more than a couple of songs from his solo recording career.

I fell in love with The Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight album a few years after hearing it following its 1980 release. YepRoc Records has just issued a 30th anniversary version of the album and if you've ever wanted to hear a record that masterfully mixed pop, rock, punk, psychedelic and folk elements, you should pick it up.

The Soft Boys may not be famous, but they were definitely influential. Just ask R.E.M.

Underwater Moonlight was The Soft Boys' second and last studio album until the band reformed to release Nextdoorland in 2002. I was lucky enough to catch a performance on the group's tour in support of it.

Robyn Hitchcock was the focal point of The Soft Boys, and I've continued to follow him through a productive and eclectic career as a solo artist and with The Egyptians and The Venus 3. He's an off-kilter musical genius who's a joy to behold on stage, as you never know what might come out of his mouth.

When Hitchcock left to pursue a solo career, Rew had a stash of songs begging to be heard. He joined Katrina & The Waves in 1981, but it took four years for the band to release its self-titled major label debut LP featuring 10 re-recorded versions of earlier songs. The album included "Going Down To Liverpool," a Rew composition that had been a hit for The Bangles two years earlier, and what would become the group's biggest hit and signature song: "Walking on Sunshine."

That was the band's commercial peak in North America, although it continued to record and won the Eurovision song contest in 1997 with the Rew-composed "Love Shine A Light," which reached #2 in Britain.

I still prefer Katrina & The Waves' earliest material, before their work was given a major label sheen, and heartily recommend obtaining 2003's The Original Recordings 1983-1984.

Rew released a 1982 solo effort called The Bible of Bop that saw him backed by members of The Soft Boys, Katrina & The Waves and another underrated act, the dB's. That was it until 2000, when Rew issued Tunnel Into Summer. Great Central Revisited followed two years later and Essex Hideaway came out in 2005. I admit to being oblivious to all of them.

The Best of Kimberley Rew was released earlier this month, and it opened my eyes to how good many of his songs I was unaware of are.

One of the earliest tracks, a great power pop number titled "Stomping All Over The World," features guitar interplay between Rew and Hitchcock and you can hear vague strains of perhaps The Soft Boys' best song, "I Wanna Destroy You," in it.

Another early number, "Hey, War Pig!," features backing from Katrina & The Waves. The title is repeated frequently throughout and, had I heard it a few weeks earlier, I definitely would have included it in my Remembrance Day "Songs of peace and remembrance" post for

"A Girl Called String" has a pleasant reggae rhythm, but without the big bottom end usually associated with the genre. Reggae progenitor rock steady similarly infuses "The End Of Our Rainbow," which also features nice female harmonies.

"English Road" is an up-tempo, jangly, power pop number of the sort that's more normally associated with Rew. So is "Simple Pleasures."

"Old Straight Track" is a rootsy pop number with female harmonies and the country-leaning "The Radio Played Good Vibrations" wouldn't have sounded out of place on The Rolling Stones' "Exile On Main St."

There are also some slower songs, a couple with spoken-word vocals ("Jerome K Jerome" and "Your Mother Was Born In That House") and "Screaming Lord Sutch," a melancholy acoustic ballad about the British music artist and Official Monster Raving Loony Party founder who hung himself in 1999.

With the publishing royalties that I hope Rew has earned from "Going Down To Liverpool," "Walking On Sunshine," "Love Shine A Light" and Celine Dion's cover of his "That's Just The Woman In Me," he may be content to live comfortably and play small pubs on weekends in his native Cambridgeshire. But knowing his pedigree, and especially after hearing this new compilation, it would be a shame if Rew didn't share his talents on a larger scale with more recording and touring.

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