Singer-songwriter Tony Wright shows promise on debut solo album

Tony Wright’s first album under the soubriquet VerseChorusVerse is a tasteful affair, if rather too in thrall to the 'classic rock canon'. Everything from the detailed arrangements, accomplished musicianship and Wright’s own honey and mustard vocals is perfectly nice. And occasionally, very occasionally, quite interesting, too.

'Our Truth Could Be Their Lie' opens with a flourish of Hammond organ and we’re away over the prairies of Ulster, guitars strummed hard by hands used 'to laying stones'. This is earthy, vigorous stuff, with Wright as a visionary: half pioneer, half troubadour, cutting through the froth and spume of daily life, proud as a ship’s prow.

He’s not afraid to bandy words about like 'forsaken' or tell stories of crying trees. The whole thing is elegantly suited and booted in a worthy mid-1960s way: drums skitter, trumpets solo neatly and Leslies rotate. It’s a statement of intent.

'Help Myself' starts with a blast of harmonica and finds Wright 'weary' while out 'walking' to the plangent whine of pedal steel guitar. He’s quite the fusty bluesman, on the prowl in his battered best suit looking for a few fingers of rye and a place to rest his head.

Banjo appears fairly inevitability on the bit after the verse that isn’t quite a chorus – and there is a harmony vocal that doesn’t really harmonise – but the whole thing drifts along pleasantly enough.

With 'We Spoke With The Night' we have a much bigger sound. It is far less apologetic, full of speaker-filling drums and orchestral synth sweeps. In fact I hear 'The Big Music', as the echo of a rockist Waterboys is unmistakable here – it’s the sound of a half-filled arena tour. You can practically smell the fried onions wafting in from the car park.

There is nothing wrong with this sort of music per se. In fact, I’m sure a lot of people will like it. If you are the sort of person who likes to wave your Zippo around at gigs until you are escorted outside by a steward, this is very much your sort of thing. But the expansive rock gestures go over my head.

It sounds ersatz, an album that is a collection of influences rather than being its own thing. Dare I say it, but it smacks of David Brent with an acoustic guitar dreaming of free love on foreign freeways.

'Three', however, is quite different. Starting ominously on the low end of a piano and drily parched acoustic guitar, the song has a texture and an intensity of its own. This hasn’t been traced from the Great American Songbook – there’s something of the man in this one.

An orchestra swoops in on the chorus and what sounds like the ghost of a clarinet sways like long grass. It sounds like nothing else, as if Wright is finally trying to do something new.

'Common Prayer', perhaps the most trad song here – a keening blues sung to a guitar – shows us something more of the man, the timbre of Wright's voice sweet and just gritty enough. It starts with a sigh and I spend my first listen through expecting a band to kick in and ruin it. When they don’t, I listen to it again and relax. The third time around I get goose-bumps. There’s no nonsense – 'Common Prayer' shows that Wright really is a talented songwriter.

It’s not all great, though. On 'Unified Unity' – a tautologytastic ode to deceased protest singer Pete Seeger, clearly a hero – Wright sounds oddly like Jon Anderson from Yes. It’s a heartfelt plea for everybody just to get along and be cool – unless I’m missing a hitherto unsuspected cynical streak – which is all very well, but I’m constantly anticipating Vangelis billowing in like a galleon in full sail.

Closer 'Close Your Eyes, Fall Asleep', despite starting with an exciting scratch of marimba – and seeing Wright do a perfectly serviceable harmony vocal while picking out those big Glen Campbell guitar notes over a tasteful orchestral backing – strays perilously close to Jon Farnham country. I have heard the big music and it is closely modelled on the ending to 'Hey Jude'. 

Wright throws everything at it and everything sticks: it’s a lumpen mess. It’s an unfortunate end to an album which, while certainly patchy, shows, in flashes, that Tony Wright is a genuine talent who could achieve great things if he would just throw the rule book a way and stop being so bloody tasteful.

VerseChorusVerse is available to download from iTunes now.