There have been many great surprises this year, but the latest album from Michael Rault is quite possibly among the best. Rault refashioned his sound in the guise of ‘70s pop with a soft heart, echoing the Apple records stable if they’d been mixing it up down in Memphis with Big Star and The Hot Dogs. Its easily the best power pop album to find its way to your speakers in 2018. So, naturally it seemed fitting to have Michael dive deep for a pick in the Hidden Gems series. I’m constantly intrigued at what people pick for these because some true gems get unearthed. Rault stayed true to his pop influences going for the oft overlooked ’74 sophomore album from a true psych-pop purveyor Billy Nicholls. It’s a true lost classic that’s been out of print for far too long. Check out how it came into Michael’s life.
Michael admitted to mulling his pick over for quite some time and he concedes, “I’ve managed to settle on a record that is somewhat new to me but has been on regular rotation at my apartment in Montreal (whenever I’ve actually been there) the last few months. My drummer, Jay Anderson, put me on to it when we were touring in March for SXSW, and it just flipped me out. I was floored. Since then we’ve worked one of the tunes off the record into our live set, and I’ve recorded a bedroom version of it, and may end up doing a more properly recorded version of it as well.”
“The album I’m talking about, he reveals “is Love Songs by Billy Nicholls (1974), and it certainly qualifies at the very least as a hidden record. For those not familiar with psych record collecting, Nicholls’ first album Would You Believe (1968) is a much sought after, although also obscure and hard to find album of baroque psych pop melodies which was produced by the Rolling Stones’ famous first manager/producer/empresario Andrew Loog Oldham. Although the first album is in itself obscure and largely unknown to the majority of the population, Love Songs is even more overlooked, and – at least for my current personal tastes – an inherently more interesting record. Whereas the first album was backed up by the majority of the Small Faces, the second album was backed up by the majority of the updated Faces line up, and where the first album attempted to capture the vibe of Pet Sounds‘ heavily orchestrated classically influenced pop, Love Songs leans into a more folk pop, acoustic guitar driven FM Gold direction.”
“The first three songs all hit the mark,” Rault notes, “and already do enough damage to propel the album into the “gem” territory. First, “White Lightning” with its subdued beginning and unusual but perfectly balanced and delivered lyrics carries us through nicely until it really opens up. Lush strings, electric guitars, bass and drums come in for a taste of Bowie-esque grandeur, it breaks down again before building back up with layered vocals and great guitar leads, then it hits as hard as it can once it has wound its way into the absolutely huge chorus. The “after chorus” section with just reverb and a repetitive vocal hook over the driving violins is just genius – pop record arrangement at its absolute best.”
“Then “Overnight Train” comes in with it’s amazing country rock/pop melody and the great drum roll backed vocal hook. Nicholls somehow continually writes familiar and hooky vocal lines without seeming obvious or boring. The song fades out with a very strong piece of guitar soloing – another hallmark aspect of the album. After that comes the subdued, enchanting “Hopeless Helpless,” which brings it down to just a folky finger picking acoustic guitar for the entire song with an amazing well executed doubled vocal flying over top. The melody on this song is perfect,” Rault confides.
“Although there are other strong songs throughout the rest of the album,” he continues, “you have to wait until the last track for my fourth stand out and favorite tune off the album: “Winter Rose.” The song starts with beautiful chords played on doubled, hard panned acoustics and then comes in with the perfect melody and words “I don’t want to criticize, and I know I shouldn’t back bite…” and from there the song works its way through a barrage of melodic vocal hooks, dueling guitar solos, and unusual and compelling lyrical choices. Lines like “like a piece of art nouveau, you can dig her with a golden hoe” and also “don’t treat her like a shrub, you better wear a glove, for she scratches in the most painful way” are off the wall yet fit into the song and arrangement seamlessly.”
Michael admits the album has had quite an impact, noting, “I didn’t know this album when I made my last record, but it was shown to me because of the similarities in aesthetic to what I’d been doing, and it certainly will be a huge influence on everything I do for a long time now that I’ve had it introduced to me.” Like Rault, I’ve always been more familiar with the first Nicholls album, but with Michael’s glowing recommendation the sophomore album has proven to have a wealth of great songwriting. Sadly, this is quite out of print on vinyl and but Nicholls has issued the CD himself. As for Rault’s own gentle gem, if you’re not enamored at this point, you need to be listening closer.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.