"The bells, the bells!," the hunchback of Notre Dame shouted in pain at the climax of the movie named after him. And "The Bells, The Bells!" kicks off Wooly Wolstenholme's new solo album, with a chirpy "Here we go," a tinkling of bells, a crash, an ominous regal organ and symphonics, all heralding the entry of the maestro Maestoso. Maestoso, of course, was the title of Wolstenholme's debut solo set, and 24 years after that album appeared the artist has now taken that moniker as his solo alter ego. A second album famously didn't follow, at least until 1994, when the tapes for it were dug out, dusted off and finally released as Songs from the Black Box. And now, a decade on from that, One Drop in a Dry World makes it a hat trick. Joining him on this new set are Craig Fletcher and Kevin Whitehead, of Barclay James Harvest through the Eyes of John Lees, and Steve Broomhead who played on Maestoso. So, past easily melds into the present, and it's no wonder that at times One Drop evokes BJH in their prime. From the incendiary prog rock "Blood & Bones" across the glittery folk-pop of "A Waiting Game," across the bouncy '60s swaddled "It's U," and on to the epic title track, Maestoso revisits his and Britain's musical past with relish.
"Souk," however, stands apart, a song that sounds surprisingly contemporary with its gothy gloom, ravishing melody, and haunting guitar riff, and falling somewhere between hard rock, a Cure-ish goth, and indie. "Explorers" is even more modern in feel and could have come straight off the British singles chart, a sweet, simple number, with an iridescent atmosphere and a gorgeous melody. "The End of the Road" wants to join it there, a lovely ballad with surprisingly biting lyrics. And then there's "The Starving People of the World All Thank You for Your Time." As its ironic title implies, this is a lethal dig at chart-busting charity singles, and its infectious melody, reiterated lyric, and pompous melodic punk arrangement emerges as a lampoon of perfect proportions. Moving from the satirical to the surreal, "A.N.S.S." is a tongue-in-cheek take on Britain's summertime propensity for pop fluff, incorporating just about every de rigueur element of the bland genre along the way, from reggae to soaring synths and on to pomp rock.
The set ends, however, with the splendid "Carpet" which magically transports us one final time back to Wolstenholme's prog rock past with a number that seems ripped straight out of the '70s. All told, One Drop is a stunning album, not just the best of any of the BJH's side projects, but a set that's equal to the mothership at its prime.