Danny George Wilson is likely to entice some curious ears to this album through name alone, selecting the name of a popular Roald Dahl book to front his latest venture. The book has held a huge appeal through its heart warming tale of young Danny, whose poacher father deems him to be ‘the champion of the world’ for saving him from the wrath of Mr Hazell the landlord. It’s a tale of ultimately youthful vigour and invention.
Here, however, the association with youth ends pretty much as soon as it begins. “Is this the end of the road?” asks the vocalist in opening track Henry The Van, said van having expired on a Scottish highway. Despite the song’s overall optimism – and some possibly sterling work by the emergency services – its lightly listless feel indicates we may be in for a bit more soul searching than initially expected.
That proves to be the case for the first part of the album, as Streets Of Our Time wanders with a somewhat heavy tread through some admittedly attractive countryside, as if Wilson was casting himself as Danny’s downtrodden father. It is the scenery that ultimately wins through, however, with the plink plonk of a banjo on Follow The River seemingly depicting the passage of the boats downstream.
This is the overriding feature of Wilson’s work, the beautiful instrumentation, though it would have perhaps have benefitted more from extra harmonic movement to go with it. A lot of these songs find a tonal centre and stay there, pleasing in their overall sound but with little sense of transition. The first four songs on the album are in the same key, which sounds like a small gripe but does mean that we need to wait until Wandle Swan for the sun to truly rise above the parapet. It’s worth the wait in the end, the boogie woogie bassline at the end a nice touch for a song that uses its slide guitars to flit between folk and country with apparent ease.
Influences are worn liberally on sleeves through Streets Of Our Time, but the obvious reverence towards Neil Young and the lighter Bob Dylan is never overdone, with subtle vocals from Wilson that are clear enough to forge their own path. The record is at its most enjoyable towards the end, where the songwriter and his band mates appear to have shaken off the forces that were conspiring against them early on.
This is, then, an ultimately enjoyable listen, nicely crafted and replete with songs sporting subtle nuances. If you persevere through the slight world weariness of the early songs you, too, will find the freedom of the pheasants in Roald Dahl’s tale.