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Brian May and Kerry Ellis - Golden Days (Album Review)

Friday, 21 April 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

You may think that combining the genres of musical theatre and rock ‘n’ roll will result in a listening experience that’s about as palatable as a marmite sandwich laced with ball bearings. But when the hard rocker in question is Queen’s Brian May, a man whose band aren’t exactly known for subtlety or restraint, it’s a much more plausible marriage that, at its best, offers a bombastic buffet of pure cheesy goodness.

‘Golden Days’ is a sort of follow up to Kerry Ellis’ 2010 effort ‘Anthems’, an album May - who produced and contributed his songwriting and trademark guitar licks to - had wanted to make since he witnessed her perform in ‘My Fair Lady’ nearly a decade earlier.

Following the same blueprint as that effort, this overdue sophomore album from the musical odd couple mixes a handful of original songs with covers siphoned from the worlds of pop, rock, theatre and film. The big difference, however, is that May’s name is now rightly positioned alongside Ellis’ on the album’s sleeve.  

Like ‘Anthems’, ‘Golden Days’ is at its most delightful when it occupies the overblown middle ground betwixt Ellis’ theatricality and May’s guitar driven histrionics.

Roll With You and It’s Gonna Be Alright (The Panic Attack Song) are giddy peaches that sound like Queen’s Don’t Stop Me now bouncing around on an inflatable castle with May’s Driven By You. Ellis imbues the songs with sparkly spunk and grandeur, while the guitarist’s idiosyncratic licks give chase. The Kissing Me Song, meanwhile, takes the track premiered on the duo’s live ‘Acoustic by Candlelight’ effort and turns it into a piece of candy-coated flirtation.  

Some of the covers are equally pleasurable, in particular Don Black and John Barry’s Born Free and I Who Have Nothing, a song made famous by Shirley Bassey. The former is as a windswept slice of cinematic beauty, mixing piano tinkling, sweeping strings and a glorious vocal before May’s fingers dance a harmony-drenched fox trot up and down his fretboard.  The latter, meanwhile, features additional vocals from the daughter of Zucchero, Irene Fornaciari. Part trancey dancefloor number, ABBA disco romp and driving rocker, it turns the epic dial up to 11.  

Elsewhere, guitar geeks will rightly salivate over a lovely rendition of Gary Moore’s Parisienne Walkways. May remains faithful to the guitarist’s work as his exquisite tone soars, but Ellis brings a romanticism to the song that differs from the mournful nostalgia offered by Moore and Phil Lynott’s renditions.

The Queen axe-master recently described Ellis as possessing the most beautiful voice in Britain and her cut-glass performance on the folky One Voice is fittingly angelic. Even better is her mesmerising delivery of the gorgeously evocative title track, which is a harp-flavoured homage of sorts to Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing.

Having said that, ‘Golden Days’ ultimately falls short of matching ‘Anthems’ because there’s too much balladry. We don’t need covers of Amazing Grace, If I Loved You and I Can’t Help Falling In Love, while Love In A Rainbow’s saccharine sentimentality is liable to cause fans of Queen’s early work to vomit out of their eardrums.

Although the glut of slower songs edge the balance of the record towards Ellis’ oeuvre and away from the fun-filled magic that occurs when both their styles combine, the whole affair is exceptionally well executed. Knock a few of those tracks off and you have another winner from a duo whose chemistry strikes gold more often than not.

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