By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Topley's comfort in jumping from genre to genre is Spanish Wells's most defining feature, from his Ranking Roger-style toasting on "Ten Ten" to the steel-guitar balladry of "Nothing Else Matters." Perhaps the CD's closest connection to the folks who sign Topley's paychecks comes in the song "Cowpoke," an honest-to-God cowboy ditty written by Stan Jones. Topley first heard the song while sucking up the atmosphere during a performance by Texas legend Don Walser on Austin's Sixth Street. Since his last holiday visit to the States, Topley has been collaborating with Brighty on material for a yet-to-be-titled new album and says he has completed the bulk of the work, much of which is in the spirit of Spanish Wells. He had also initially planned to use the three dates at the Fox to record a live album, although he says he's not sure if that will happen now.
"I just do what I've always done, which is to make tapes of my own songs and try to find some conduit through which to get them to the people. I started writing and recording songs just as soon as I came off from playing last Christmas. And I've been writing them with a view to playing them live and getting them out to the same kind of people. There's some bits of Cuban stuff on this one, which is probably the most different material of the album. There's also quite a lot of reggae, which I'm sort of unsure whether I should put on the album or not -- although it sounds good now."
Topley's odd arrangement with Nashville, not normally considered the biggest breeding ground for British rock stars, stems back to a friendship he made with Mercury president Luke Lewis during the Blessing's heyday. Lewis brought Topley to New York to help craft his first solo release, Black River, bringing in hired guns like producer Barry Beckett. That disc was followed by Mixed Blessing, a project that combined four new songs with a number of tracks taken from the Blessing's album. And despite recent record-industry shakeups that have seen many artists dropped from labels' rosters, Topley remains signed with Mercury and continues to be one of its most non-traditional artists.
"I think Luke always felt there was some sort of Americana angle to my music, and at the time I went over to get the deal with Nashville, there wasn't much interest in that kind of thing over here. I'm sure that I'm still one of the more difficult clients they have, but they've given me a lot of love and faith that bigger labels probably wouldn't have," he says. "I'd love to come back to Nashville and do a record with a producer and spend loads of money on it, but as things are at the moment, it seems sensible to knuckle down and get on with the work here. You've got to just keep on with your own little journey. I haven't made the kind of records that would have been easy for a major label to have sold on a mass level. I wish I had, but every time I go in to do one, it sort of comes out a more personal object than I thought it would be."