Alan Bown / The Alan Bown Set

Outward Bown

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Everybody who's followed the convoluted career of Jess Roden, Britain's best-kept blue-eyed soul-shaped secret for more than 30 years, should close their ears right now. The man who turned "I Can't Get Next to You" into one of the most dramatically passionate rock workouts of the '70s is completely up a bubblegum tree here, running through an album of light-psych whimsy that has as much to do with his future your poison: Peter Frampton and the Herd, Status Quo and "Matchstick Men," Traffic and its debut album. It's great pop, of course -- as great as any of those and many more. Blissed out mini-classics like "Magic Handkerchief," "The Violin Shop," and "My Girl the Month of May" are as delightful as only second-division British psych can be, a collection of semi-detached suburban Ray Davies observations full of vaguely Edwardian lifestyle concerns, peopled by pretty girls who wash the dishes, toys that talk, and love that flies from the rooftops with the clouds. Signs of the band's (and band members') brilliance are all over the place. "Penny for Your Thoughts" is garage land Small Faces, underpinned by freak guitar and the brilliant brass of Bown and future Supertramp mainstay John Anthony Helliwell, while a version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" melds Hendrix' arrangement to a Sgt. Pepper's-ish style. And it's all so impossibly sweet, so implausibly twee, and so utterly a child of its times that you can't help but wonder just how humanity survived the '60s. Let alone Roden himself!

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