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Review in Maverick Country Magazine - "Britain’s finest makes a triumphant return"

(September 10, 2011)

Britain’s finest makes a triumphant return

Those who followed country music in the UK during the 1970s-1980s will almost certainly be familiar with the name Frank Jennings. The Reading-based singer led his band Frank Jennings Syndicate higher than just about any other UK country act then or since. They won TV’s Opportunity Knocks, were signed to EMI Records and charted on the UK pop charts and also gained a gold disc along the way, not to mention extensive touring, either in their own right, or as an opening act for such major touring acts as Don Williams, Tammy Wynette and many others. Things have been quiet on the Frank Jennings front for many years so it was quite a surprise when this album dropped through the letterbox. I’m pretty sure it’s the first CD that Frank has released. All his older recordings were only issued on vinyl!

Produced by son Kieran Jennings and recorded mainly at Newbury with a crack band including former Syndicate members Graham Walker (acoustic lead and rhythm guitar) and Alan Waite (upright piano, keyboards and background vocals) plus Gerry Hogan (steel guitar) Bob Winquist (fiddle), Mike Loft (bass), Mike Pretty (drums), Pat O’Dea (lead and rhythm guitar). There are two bonus tracks, recorded back in 2005 at Hemel Hempstead with Slim Pickins and Dave Hayward joining Walker, Waite and Winquist. These two tracks seamlessly work alongside the other ten tracks so that you cannot tell that they were not part and parcel of the main album sessions. Frank Jennings is in fine voice throughout with that great phrasing that made him standout alongside the average UK country vocalists of then and now. When you hear him sing a sensitive, somewhat emotional lyric such as Rodney Crowell and Dwight Yoakam’s Thinking About Leaving or Merle Kilgore’s You’ll Drive Me Back (Into Her Arms Again), you can tell that he really means every word.

I’ll readily admit I grimaced when I looked at the track listing and saw Johnny Cash’s Big River as the opening track. But full credit to Frank and the band for giving this old chestnut a fresh, contemporary workout that works really well. As might be expected from Frank, there is a pronounced Faron Young/Mel Tillis sound running through the album. But as this has now become a ‘lost’ sound in today’s country music, it’s great to hear a master re-interpreting such lesser-known classics as Tillis’ Forgive Me For Giving You The Blues, Willie Nelson’s Three Days and Bill Anderson’s Walk Out Backwards. These are all top quality songs with memorable melodies, stunning arrangements and totally believable vocals. There’s also a great revival of Billy Walker’s Matamoros and Porter Wagoner’s Carroll County Accident. Then we come to the bonus tracks. Both are penned by Slim Pickins and Graham Walker and stand up alongside the songs by the more established writers. What You See Is What You Get is a superb barroom two-stepper, the kind of thing that Young, Tillis and Ray Price used to grace the American radio airwaves with. Just as impressive is the Tex Mex sound of My Sweet Senorita, just love Frank’s phrasing on ‘my memory’ pure magic. The reason that a singer like Frank Jennings was able to develop such a professional sound that is easily the equal of anything that’s come out of Nashville over the past forty years, whilst working on the UK country music scene was because he was allowed to entertain audiences, even in a club environment, and not kowtow to the mindless line-dance fraternity. All that needs to be said is buy, buy, buy! Alan Cackett

Maverick AAG Publishing Limited
Company Registration:04350455
24 Bray Gardens, Maidstone, Kent, ME15 9TR

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