By John Curley
Beat Street, the third album by Glasgow-based Mod revival band Button Up, was recorded earlier this year in Glasgow. But it harkens back to the great Stax-Volt recordings of the 1960s. Hammond organ and horns are prominently featured on the album, giving it a retro feel while sounding modern at the same time.
Garry John Kane, founding member of Button Up (and the bassist with The Proclaimers), wrote five of the ten tracks on the album and co-wrote an additional four tracks with lead vocalist Sara Kerr. The lone cover on the album is an excellent reworking of Miles Kane’s recent UK rock hit “Inhaler.”
The main lure of the album is that while it consists mostly of originals, it sounds like an album of classic blues and Northern Soul covers. And that is down to the talented musicians featured on the album. The rhythm section of Kane and drummer Lesley McLaren provides a strong backbone while Kerr’s powerhouse vocals are at the top of the mix. (McLaren is also the drummer in the current lineup of Altered Images.) Liam Elliot’s guitar and Paul Gallagher’s work on the piano and Hammond organ are also prominently featured. Kane put together the horn arrangements. The horn section on the album includes Tom Macniven on trumpet, Michael Owers on trombone, and Bill Fleming on saxophone. Davie Ritchie on harmonica and Claire Halavage on flute are also featured on the album.
The Northern Soul vibe on the album shines through immediately on “It’s a Trip,” the first track on the album, with the Hammond organ and horns featured. “If You See Ma Man” continues the Stax-Volt vibe. “Beat Street,” the title track, is one of the standout songs on the album and flows quite smoothly. “I’m Going Home,” which features Ritchie’s harmonica, sounds like a vintage blues track. “Don’t Ask Me To Choose” is a beautiful slower song done in classic R&B style. The cover of Miles Kane’s “Inhaler” really works because it takes the straight-ahead rock sound of the original and, adding horns and Hammond organ, recasts it as a powerful Northern Soul tune. “Monkey Business” is a showcase for Kerr’s vocals. “Emily” features Elliot’s guitar work along with the horns and Kerr’s vocals quite effectively. “I Can Fall” is a gorgeous song that highlights McLaren’s drums, Elliot’s guitar, and Kerr’s vocals. “Mr. Smooth,” which closes out the album, is driven by the horn section.
While Northern Soul is considered, for the most part, a sound from the past, it appears to have a bright future in the hands of such talented practitioners as Button Up. Beat Street is a joy to listen to from start to finish.
Beat Street was produced, recorded, and mastered by Kane’s brother, Greg Kane of the Scottish band Hue & Cry, at Red Key Studio in Glasgow. The album is released on Button Up’s own label, Button Up Records, and is available from Amazon and iTunes in the United States.