Search The Line of Best Fit
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Danny & The Champions of the World – Hearts & Arrows

19 July 2011, 08:59 Written by Andy Johnson

Bruce Springsteen acquired his nickname of “The Boss” due to his leadership role in his early bands, but in another sense it’s just as appropriate today, owing to his enormous influence on other artists. Where the Boss goes, others will follow, and Australian ex-pat Danny George Wilson and his Champions of the World are just one example. There is more than a touch of Springsteen’s brand of Americana and heartland rock to be heard on Hearts & Arrows – but just as Wilson reminds us not to “let the truth get in the way of your story”, it would seem churlish to let the reality of his influences get in the way of enjoying what is a generally honest and enjoyable third LP.

After all, Danny & The Champions of the World are not new to this game, having been founded in 2007 by Wilson, formerly of criminally overlooked country rockers Grand Drive. Classic American music had always filtered into that band’s sound, and it has never sounded out of place in the work of the Champions. Indeed, on Hearts & Arrows they have a knack for convincingly transplanting the all-American Springsteen surge from Atlantic City to North London’s Tufnell Park.

It’s on the more upbeat songs that this redeployment works best, however. ‘Soul in the City’ and ‘You Don’t Know (My Heart Is In The Right Place)’ are perhaps the highlights – muscular rock cuts with an always down-to-earth kind of power. By contrast the mid-tempo efforts, like ‘The Colonel and the King’ are a little less compelling even as they are superior outings for Wilson’s lyrical skills. It is the slower ballads which come off worst, especially the dreary ‘Too Tough to Cry’ which serves mainly to showcase the worse aspects of Wilson’s otherwise inviting voice and to tour a lyrical road too often travelled before.

Although at all times the Champions sound earnest and capable in what is new territory for them – borne out of Wilson’s frustration with “new folk”, apparently – the Springsteen influence almost becomes overbearing enough to trip the whole record. His presence pervades every aspect of the package, from the songwriting to the titles and even to Wilson’s pose on the album cover – indeed, The Boss looms so large his shadow almost blocks Wilson out.

The enduring sense is that while they have developed as a musical outfit and produced an album significantly more compelling than their earlier work, the Champions have become too wrapped up in their influences to craft their efforts into a cohesive whole that is truly their own. It’s hard to imagine that a band which includes musicians as experienced as these would make the same mistake again, however, and Hearts & Arrows will make a decent enough means of marking time until they come back stronger still.

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