So, I’ve been a fan of Danny Champ since the days of Grand Drive. Their True Love and High Adventure was one of my absolute favourite albums for such a long time. In fact, it’s still one that I love to listen to. But back then. Man. It was an album that came just at the right time. A gorgeously dreamy record that reminded me simultaneously of what I loved about The Beach Boys, Mercury Rev (a love that never really extended beyond Deserter’s Songs, but that’s another story) and Glen Campbell’s Witchita Lineman and Gentle On My Mind (lush country-pop at it’s finest!).
When Grand Drive wound down in 2007, Danny & The Champions of the World was born. A different affair, but Danny’s song-writing was clearly getting stronger and I guess the brilliant Hearts & Arrows was, I thought, the sound of he and the band getting into a groove. It was all Petty and Springsteen flavoured, but there was enough of Danny & The Champs to ensure that it wasn’t just a tribute exercise. However, last year’s Stay True took me by surprise. I totally expected another fine record from Danny & Co., but I didn’t expect a record this good.
My introduction to the album was the YouTube clip for (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket and while it was unmistakeably the work of Danny, there was something else in there. A new ingredient. As it happens, it’s also the album opener, and as brilliant an opener as any. A quite wonderful (true) story about hitch-hiking to a Fabulous Thunderbirds show. There’s also the Boss-tastic message of never giving up on a dream. While it’s a stand-out, it’s not my favourite – that’s likely Stop Thief! (a song that wouldn’t be out of place in Sam Cooke’s catalogue) or Darlin’ Won’t You Come In From the Cold (which sounds like a lost Dylan song while being unmistakeably Danny).
Soaked in everything wonderful about music – from the honest passion and emotion of The Band straight to Wilson Pickett via Neil Young. There’s also the vibrancy of Stax and Muscle Shoals and a dose of all that was great about the Brill Building. There’s a little less Boss than on Hearts & Arrows, but Tom Petty is still there … as, I’ve been assured, is the influence of Tupelo Honey-era Van Morrison. Seriously, it’s like they’ve taken all the best bits of the last 60 years and created the most incredible, accessible slice of rock ‘n’ soul (with a slice or two or three of country). It’s absolutely perfect.
… so, like I was saying, here was me expecting a very fine album. Then Danny & The Champions of the World go and knock it out the park. It’s been played a helluva lot since I picked it up in November last year. Pretty much three or four times a month … and I’m gonna be listening to this for a Helluva long time. Not sure how they follow this up, cause I think it’ll take a lot of beating. Not just their best, but Danny’s. Seriously, it’s absolutely timeless.