When is an album of cover versions not a covers album? When said songs are being uncovered for the first time…
Ian Prowse’s new album, Compañeros, contains ten tunes written by songwriters other than the Merseysider. The rub? They’re all songs penned by friends of his (hence the title) and songwriters who travel under the radar. A couple are written by local favourites, one or two by mainstays of the folk scene and another by a big name with a major label record deal (remember them?). But, they all have one thing in common: they’re tunes that have a lived a full life out of the way of the mainstream music business.
For fans of Prowse, what this means is that Compañeros is an album brimful of musical ideas. Sure, the Amsterdam front-man has always paid strict attention to melody and verse – but the pallet of the music contained on this album has gained many colours. Out go the fiddles and flutes that have become his band’s stock-in-trade, and in their place you’ll hear horns, pedal steel and accordion.
Producer Tony Kiley (The Blow Monkeys) has found the perfect accompaniment for this grab-bag of tunes and the album is a joy to listen to. It doesn’t hurt that Prowse has cherry-picked the best songs of his favourite songwriters – Damien Dempsey’s ‘St Patrick’s Brave Brigade’ is delivered as a waltz-time lament with a shore-lapping arrangement, The Lost Soul Band’s ‘You Can’t Win ‘em All Mum’ sounds like an early Waterboys steamroller with the saxophone front and centre and Eoin Glackin’s ‘What Am I To You’ is restyled as the perfect little pop song.
Loud electric guitars and symphonic bass have also moved into the spotlight and Prowse is back to early Amsterdam’s post-punk-pop best on rockers like the frantic and funny ‘Derry Gaol’ and the heroic and heart-breaking ‘My Name Is Dessie Warren’; written by Alan Burke and Alun Parry respectively.
‘My Name Is…’, in particular, is an immediate highlight of Compañeros, thanks to Prowse’s brilliant vocal delivery and emotional engagement with the song… he really does get under the skin of the big ones. First single ‘Mississippi Beat’ (written by adopted Scouser, Jez Wing of Cousin Jac) is another standout, presented as a duet with Lumiere’s Pauline Scanlon, and is a bruised ballad that hits all the sweet spots and blue notes. There is an ache in the heart of all of Prowse’s best moments and, with ‘Mississippi Beat’, this album has delivered another to add to the canon.
The less emotional side of Compañeros (i.e. the concept) is a winner too – in choosing to shine the spotlight on his favourite songs written by others, and reinvigorate them with a combination of what modernists might call fire and skill, Prowse has delivered some additions to his catalogue that will become as much a part of his and his fans’ journey as ‘Raid The Palace’, ‘Does This Train Stop On Merseyside?’ and ‘Home’.
And all this surely means that there will be plenty left in the tank for when the time comes for a dozen or so more originals from the man himself.