Recently the subject of the state of the music business has been the source of much debate in the RGM office...not that we have an actual office, more like a desk really but... The inspiration for much of this chat was a documentary film by Rain Perry ‘The Shopkeeper' reviewed here which explains just how difficult aspects of the business are in 2017. For another side of the modern music business let's take a look at Ron Pope on a one-man mission to demonstrate how to do things in 2017 while remaining fiercely independent.
Ron Pope has managed to do what he loves and make a living based on a business model that highlights the power and reach of streaming music. The numbers are frankly staggering: One million monthly Spotify listeners, 2 million single sales, 200 million Spotify streams, 630 million Pandora plays and 150 million YouTube views. Combine this with licensing music to TV and film (Vampire Diaries, 90210 etc.) and you have Ron Pope the independent, international touring artist about to release 'Work' his seventh studio album, which will naturally be released on his own Brooklyn Basement label.
I was a little late to the Ron Pope story (which started over a decade ago in a band called The District) as my introduction to the songwriter was his 2016 Ron Pope & The Nighthawks record, which turned out to be a real gem of edgy, rootsy storytelling. From the raw power of the anthemic 'Ain't No Angel' to the more melancholic piano led strains of 'Leave You Behind' by way of the horn driven 'Hell or High Water' The Nighthawks record features a host of tracks just begging to be turned up and rocked out.
For his latest release 'Work' Pope and his fellow musicians shut themselves away for a week in the Welcome to 1979 studio in Nashville and recorded 'Work' the old-school analog way with co-producer Ted Young. The result is a record that seems like a natural companion to The Nighthawks but with a subtle twist or turn or two. The album follows a loose concept that starts out with a young Pope learning that some things might be 'Bad for Your Health’ which initially threw me for a loop. Those Southern soul influences (Pope is a Georgia native recording in Nashville) are turned up to ten, with throbbing bass, upfront horns and terrific female backing vocals. It's infectious, good time fun "She had crooked teeth and a perfect smile" the young Pope recalls as he takes his first tentative steps into adulthood. 'Let's Get Stoned' continues in a similar vein as the young Pope recounts a tale of young lust “Things I didn’t Know, were too long to list” but a young blond lady, a late night and some dubious substances should solve that problem. Relationships are again at the core of the strident ‘Can’t Stay Here’ which features a terrific vocal from Katie Schecter and one piece of perfectly placed slide guitar work.
Sometimes a song has the ability to touch you, the reasons for this can be deeply personal or annoyingly difficult to pin down, it just happens. The title track from ‘Work’ addresses issues of the work/life balance that we all hope to achieve and something that I’ve struggled with a great deal in the last year. It was a subject that I’d discussed at length with my Dad, who passed away earlier this year, so ‘Work’ stirs up many feelings and memories. ‘Work’ finds Pope at his Springsteen influenced melancholy best and makes for a standout track on the record. The mid-paced stomp of ‘The Last’ follows and Pope is embracing old-school Nashville with countrified instrumentation (fiddle, banjo) and yet more very fine harmony vocals. ‘Someday We're All Gonna Die’ continues the country theme but replaces the light stomp with a gentle sway “I’m the child of an honest mistake, some puppy love that went too far” could well be my favourite line of the moment.
‘Partner in Crime’ is a mid-period ‘Human Touch’ Springsteen influenced tune that features a metronomic rimshot drum part, which I warmed to eventually, especially when complimented by Charles Ray’s subtle horn parts and another lovely harmony vocal part. Ray also adds a valuable contribution to ‘Dancing Days’ which follows. The album concludes with Pope at his melancholy best performing a gorgeous duet with Molly Parden ‘The Weather’ and stripping things back to just voice and acoustic guitar for ‘Stick Around’ to conclude a fine set.
‘Work’ is a journey for Ron Pope that started with the innocence of youth, before real life got in the way. This is doubtless a journey that most of us can relate to in our own lives and helps to make ‘Work’ a fine record, that comes highly recommended.