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Skeleton Soul Nick Hutchings , November 26th, 2014 13:52

Cowbell are Jack Sandham and Wednesday Lyle from Stoke Newington. They're on Damaged Goods, the label that has long been the home of Holly Golightly and Thee Headcoats, and the name of their second album, Skeleton Soul, reflects the simplicity of the songs: lean and off-the-bone. But Sandham and Lyle (whose names coincidentally almost sound like a brand of syrup) have a sound that's far sweeter than the venomous spit of Lux and Ivy, and richer than the avowedly amateur four-four beat of the Childish gang.

This album was made not at Toe Rag in Hackney, but on similar vintage valve equipment a stone's throw away at Gizzard Studios. They've re-created a little piece of New Orleans swampland by the Regent's Canal. Even though it's self-consciously retro-revivalist rock & roll, these songs whip up a lindyhopping storm.

The cautionary tale that is album opener 'Cry Wolf' begins ominously like Catherine Wheel's 'I Want To Touch You', but where the double bass leads, a shuffling drum follows, and Sandham's loopy croon spirals over the top like a kiss-curl on a Brylcreemed pate. Skeleton Soul really starts swinging at the hipbone on second song 'She's All Over You', where Sandham sings like James Johnston during Gallon Drunk's From The Heart Of Town and the organ underscore is pure Dance On Fire by The Doors. He starts by singing his own backing vocals, with a range that's low to high in under a second, before the ante is upstepped when Lyle leans into the Sennheisser with a saccharine but subtle harmony.

Hitting their stride hard, they hotfoot it into next track 'Oh Yolande'. It's a real standout moment. The guitar line strafes like a Sterling submachine gun, and it's a song of which the original Chatham Jack Childish would be proud. Perhaps that's because it sounds like a roll-up of Thee Headcoats' 'All My Feelings Denied' and The Buff Medways' 'Unable To See The Good'. They get stuck (or should that be stuckist) in this groove during 'Baby It's Your Love' with a nod and a wink to Vince Taylor & The Playboys' 'Brand New Cadillac'. Just when I'm hooked they nearly blow it all with 'Dirt'; despite a sax solo worthy of Terry Edwards, the underlying beat feels over-shiny and over-zealous.

The bitter taste is quickly washed away with the beguiling 'Heart On The Line', Lyle's sole solo effort. Her singing is lilting, lazy even, and the brass accompaniment is almost sighing along, like the strains of a black-and-white Hovis commercial from the 1980s, but somehow it all works.

It's back to more obvious territory with 'The Fear'–talk of the penitentiary, a touch of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, and horror-splattered organ last heard on Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' 'Red Right Hand'. On slow glide of 'Darkness In Your Heart' Lyle lifts the track, but it's at this point that the journey on the dusty track from Stoke Newington to New Orleans loses traction. It's no coincidence this is the longest song on the album, at over five minutes, and the reprise is surely redundant.

The spirit of Jerry Lee during 'Shake The Blues' tries its best to shake this listener from the lull, but only serves to confirm that Cowbell are better at floor-filling sub-three-minute blasts than widescreen epics. Unless, that is, they let Lyle lead some more.