The New Adventures Of… P.P. Arnold
Buy Here | Listen Below
[Read Patrick Corcoran’s recent interview with P.P. Arnold here]
P.P. Arnold could, and perhaps should, have been a superstar. Originally hailing from Los Angeles, she arrived in London in the midst of a cultural and social revolution in 1966. Touring as part of the Ikettes, she eventually quit with the support and encouragement of Mick Jagger to pursue a solo career. That solo career was a frustrating affair filled with record company shadiness, personal turmoil and plain, good old-fashioned bad luck.
Despite these setbacks, she always found work (unsurprisingly, given the quality of her voice), be it in musical theatre or on the occasional chart hit such as The Beatmasters’ “Burn It Up” from 1988. However the most aptly titled collection of her Heritage recordings from 1968-1970 appeared in 2017. The Turning Tide collected recordings produced by Eric Clapton and Barry Gibb and showcased the stellar voice of that bright, vivacious young ‘un who had left L.A. behind for London and its fertile musical ground.
Her work with The Small Faces and others almost guaranteed attention when a certain part of the Britpop explosion of the ‘90s used their template to crash the musical party and she made lasting relationships with those she had helped to inspire. And so, with a little help from her friends, she arrives with her fourth album entitled The New Adventures Of… P.P. Arnold.
When a singer resurfaces after a time away from prying public eyes and ears, there are seemingly two ways to go about re-introducing them. There is the classic approach whereby the original style and sound that made that person known is adhered to with a refined modern polish (a la Betty Wright). Or there is a more leftfield choice to engage with a decidedly different, more modern sound (such as the work that Gil Scott-Heron did on his final studio album I’m New Here in 2010). The choice here (for the most part at least) is to stick fairly closely with the musical touchstones of her late ‘60s and early ‘70s work.
Recorded and produced by Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller) at his studio in Devon, The New Adventures leans heavily on the sounds and textures of both P.P.’s earlier work and that of Cradock’s assorted musical groups and guises. Consequently the production, writing and her inimitable voice go together like a hand in a glove. Their relationship, forged over 25 years, engenders a trust between them that shines throughout the album.
Album opener “Baby Blue” is the textbook example of the approach. A sweet melody, Arnold’s soulful vocal and muted horns allied to a subtle burst of orchestration conjure up those bygone days without a hint of feeling passé. The P.P. Arnold penned “Though It Hurts Me Badly” offers up all the evidence needed to know that her voice retains all of its power and nuance, while “The Magic Hour” shows that Cradock understands Arnold’s musical heritage perfectly in offering her a chance to spread vocal sunshine on a jaunty ‘60s vibe-filled track.
A different flavor pops up on the sanctified “I Believe.” A scratchy funk guitar, dynamic strings and Arnold’s show-stopping voice combine for a euphoric ode to hope and faith before the tempo shifts again for a dance-floor beckoning “Hold On To Your Dreams.” These glimpses beyond the archetypal late ‘60s soul pop sound demonstrate both her adaptability and her desire to stretch beyond what might be expected of her and they hit a sweeter spot than some of the later tracks that retread past sounds (however beautifully they may do so).
The delicious gospel feel of “I Finally Found My Way Home” is yet another example of the huge scope of her vocal artistry, but it is followed by a couple of the aforementioned “trips down memory lane” in “You Got Me” and “Daltry Lane.” There is nothing wrong with these tracks, indeed they are constructed to perfection. Horns, strings and guitar are laid down precisely and her stately soulful voice is a sound to behold. But maybe there’s just a little too much precision—a little roughness around the edges suits her voice even better.
Yet the album ends with two tracks that couldn’t be further from her calling card. An epic, loose nine-minute version of Bob Dylan’s “Last Thoughts Of Woody Guthrie” features not Arnold’s imperious singing, but her dulcet tones in proto-rap form and it is funky (think Erykah Badu’s “Amerykahn Promise”). Last up is “I’ll Always Remember You (Debbie’s Song)” that mines the intense sorrow and devastation of a parent losing their child. Recorded in Exeter cathedral, to the accompaniment of organ and strings, it is a sucker punch to the heart and soul.
If there were any thoughts that time had been unkind to Arnold’s majestic voice, then this album banishes them to the point of annihilation. She is a soaring presence, using her voice to great effect on more than a few styles of song, handling each and every one with the style and panache of the swinging ‘60s that birthed her signature sound. Where she (and the album) really shines though, is when the envelope is pushed beyond her usual mode d’emploi—the more she gets pushed, the more she responds.
After a long wait in the wings, it really is P.P. Arnold’s time to fly.
Notable Tracks: "I Believe" | “I’ll Always Remember You (Debbie’s Song)” | "Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie" | “Though It Hurts Me Badly”