Colin Blunstone - “One Year”

Colin Blunstone Colin Blunstone
“One Year”

4.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

Once in a while you come across a CD that’s so moving in its breadth and beauty that it puts you in a state of serenity you never thought possible. Colin Blunstone’s “One Year” is such a recording, an unlikely combination of folk, rock, and classical music. Blunstone’s aching choirboy vocals are the centerpiece, supported by Chris Gunning’s sensitive, silken strings. Seldom has rock and classical music meshed so brilliantly.

After the demise of The Zombies in 1968, Blunstone took a mundane job as an insurance salesman, but the success of the group’s posthumous single “Time of the Season” pushed his name back into the limelight. In a moment of rebellion, Blunstone assumed the name Neil Macarthur and re-recorded The Zombies “She’s Not There.” The song was a hit all over again in England. He ran out the string as Neil Macarthur for two more unsuccessful 45s before bending to the inevitable – if he wanted DJs to spin his records he’s better take advantage of his reputation and use his own name. Blunstone then wisely took his time recording his first solo album (it took a year, hence the title), employing former Zombies Rod Argent and Chris White as producers and songwriters. Keyboardist Argent brought along his new band (wisely named after himself): Russ Ballard (guitars), Robert Henrit (drums), and Jim Rodford (bass). The quartet appears on the album’s more up-tempo cuts (“She Loves the Way I Love Her,” “Caroline Goodbye,” and “Mary Won’t You Warm My Bed”), displaying musicianship worthy of four star status for their union cards. The rest of the time it’s Blunstone on his own, his sleek voice accompanied by a classically inclined string section or a muted cluster of horns. No bashing drums, no searing guitars, no funky bass, just a phenomenal singer in his prime with experienced pros.

Anyone unfamiliar with Argent’s sound need only listen to the enthusiastic opener, the Argent/White composition “She Loves the Way I Love Her,” to recognize the contributors. A top notch writer and multi-instrumentalist, Russ Ballard shows himself to be a better guitarist than he ever got credit for, and Blunstone coos with laid-back confidence. Composer Tim Hardin’s “Misty Roses” sets the stage for the CDs shift to a more doleful mood; guest guitarist Alan Crosthwaite does a Bossa Nova back up on acoustic guitar, giving way to the first emergence of the string section, which plays with moody integrity. The difference between the overwrought pop of the day (Barry Manifold for example) and today’s primping crop of poster boys (Coldplay, Josh Rouse, John Mayer, you name ‘em) is that Blunstone isn’t asking for your pity or forcing you understand his pain. The man is just singing, making whatever inner turmoil he’s wrestling with sound more genuine.

Blunstone’s whispery voice indeed sounds as if it’s breaking through the haze of a foggy dawn on “Smokey Day,” but eventually it’s going to be a beautiful, if somewhat dreamy day. The ensuing ballad “Caroline Goodbye,” is the CD’s highlight. More upbeat than the other string-driven songs, it’s still filled with regret, and Blunstone’s personal loss is at its core. Blunstone wrote the song about actress Caroline Munro, an obscenely beautiful horror film actress he’d dated, loved, and lost: “Saw your picture in the paper my you’re looking pretty good. Looks like you’re gonna make it in a big way, girl I always knew you would. But I should have known better, and I should have seen sooner. It’s no use pretending, I’ve know for a long time your love is ending, Caroline, goodbye.” A simple, adept acoustic guitar solo by Ballard adds refinement to Blunstone’s sighing vocal. Regal, low-key horns steady the arrangement, which is given a lift by a platoon of extras shaking their tambourines in time. (Tambourines as a lead instrument? I told you this album was different.)

A harp, no, not a harmonica, but that stringed instrument angels and Harpo Marx plays, blows the airy “Though You Are Far Away” in as if on a cloud. By quieting his already gentle delivery, Blunstone has the ability to sound as if he’s a ghostly, pained memory, and Gunning’s shivering strings rush and recess, burrowing into your very core. If you need a good cry, put this on with “Caroline Goodbye” and “Her Song.” Yep, sometime beauty can make you blubber.

Blunstone’s one misstep is Mike D’Abo’s “Mary Won’t You Warm My Bed,” which on the original LP lead off what used to be side two. Since side one lead off with an up-tempo number, it makes sense to go for a second one for the second half of the CD, but “Mary”’s tempo is too fast for the silken-voiced singer, who practically gasps his way through it. “Mary” isn’t a bad tune, it’s just out of place and it serves to interrupt the tender mood of the rest of the CD. (Time out for trivia: Mike D’Abo is the father of gorgeous actress Olivia D’Abo and the uncle of another Brit actress, Maryam D’Abo. He’s written a number of notable rock classics, including “Handbags and Gladrags” recorded by Rod Stewart, and co-wrote the pop classic “Build Me Up Buttercup” for The Foundations. He was also the lead singer for Manfred Man. It’s his voice you hear on “The Mighty Quinn” and “My Name is Jack.”)

The quivering strings are back for “Her Song.” They’re wistful and slight, with the same lost in a fantasy feel you’d associate with “The Wizard of Oz.” Blunstone’s longing whisper cries out for solace: “Hey you know, you are love to me, you hold everything like a child for me. And I think of you and your funny ways, that sweet summer smile on your lovely face. And I love you, you are love to me.” This poor guy has not only had his heart broken, he may never recover.

“I Can’t Live Without You” makes full use of the string section, who saw and pluck away with leaping delight, adding a coda straight from a Masterpiece Theater parlor farce. The heartache continues to lift with “Let Me Come Closer To You” in which Blunstone also employs a subdued horn section. The CD ends with “Say You Don’t Mind,” written by former Moody Blues lead singer and future Wings guitarist Denny “Go Now” Laine. The strings swing with good-natured authority, and the song ends with Blunstone nailing one of those reach-for-the-sky high notes that few singers can hit effectively. It’s fitting, triumphant ending to a career making success.

Even if it takes you 365 days to locate a copy of “One Year” on CD, it’s worth it. Put it in the CD player and close you eyes – this is what beautiful music should sound like.



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