Monks Road Social is a collective, lead by Richard Clarke, and Dr Robert (ex of The Blow Monkeys). A rotating assembly of around twenty musicians, encompassing the famous (Mick Talbot of The Style Council), the cult (Nev Cottee), and the as yet largely unknown (Pat Dam Smyth).
For me the most amazing thing about MRS` debut, Down The Willows, is that despite being created with a shared cast, every one of its eighteen tracks is sonically different to the last. More like a comp, than an LP. A showcase, I guess. Listening, I was assuming that the project was put together in stolen studio time over a couple of years or so. But the press release states the whole thing was locked in ten days straight. Which makes the results all the more incredible. Leading with Lost In Rasa, whose huge orchestral romantics could be Michael Kiwanuka backed by John Barry and Greg Foat. Closing with Good Bye Soho, which is The Doves doing The Kinks. A lament for the London district`s fading characters, and character. A love letter to the strip joints where the champagne tastes just like Coca Cola. In between there’s Country. Both funky (Bar Remote – think Little Feat and Lowell George), and more traditional sounding. The duet on Sycamore Tree recalling Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings` journeys down the lost highway. Folk. This Is Nowhere is a ringer for Joni Mitchell`s Jazz. The heavily reverb-ed Bright River, a kissing cousin of Karen Dalton`s Katie Cruel Blues. The “eccentric” Three Miles Left, Vashti Bunyan`s Diamond Day, if dubbed at King Tubby`s. Nev does his effortless Lee Hazlewood baritone. Dr Robert gets Gospel, like Primal Scream in Memphis. His redemptive The Coming Of Grace also squeezing in a bit of Bowie`s It Ain`t Easy. Rivers Of Gold sounds like Nick Cave doing his best Leonard Cohen. Pulled back from kicking against the pricks, by the sweet ladies of the chorus, and a soaring sax. Hello Though is The Beatles, via Oasis. Noisy and anthemic. Head Down, a 60s lava lamp psychedelia update, in the mode of Vanishing Twin. For the Balearics, there`s the gentle instrumental, Fern Of Dean. Flute, piano, and trumpet, out on a punt with Cappuccino Kid. Sporting a boater and blazer. Or Adi Shakti. A prayer to the supreme being sung like a Spaghetti-Western gun-fighter ballad, in Hindi.
The set has so much Pop appeal – these are carefully crafted songs – that it really deserves to be a national radio cross-over. Someone needs to make sure that Lauren Laverne has a copy.
You can order a copy of Monks Road Social’s Down The Willows directly from WonderfulSound.