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Michael Rault (Wick Records)

FOUR YEARS AGO, when Michael Rault was last in this parish - albeit remotely, as a Canadian transplanted to the US but not yet visible here - he was making highly entertaining power pop built in the image of a certain James Paul McCartney, and revelling in it on his 2018 album It’s A New Day Tonight.

At least that was when he was last here under his own name. Rault more recently made an appearance as a sideman/enabler for the rather fab Pearl Charles, whose albums, in particular 2021’s Magic Mirror, have deliciously leant into the mistral wind of middle-of-the-road pop built in the image of a certain decade of wide collars and soft rock.

The new Rault makes use of both routes now, offering splendid sounding music (pop some headphones on and bliss out) that veritably cruises through life like some sunshine-on-warm-skin afternoon. The guitars have the feel of satin between your fingers and the pedal steel winks generously; the keyboards play bubblegum harpsichord, vamping clavinet and front room piano; the brass make Earth Wind And Fire sound raucous, and the strings can play background, foreground or full ELO; while Rault’s voice leans high and then tips higher still.

This is not an album for the hardhearted, musically speaking. Sink into the hippie harmonies and country-conscious guitar of Inside Your Heart, and you find that Crosby Stills and Nash rise up naturally, then Rault pushes this further into the brighter Nash-light of Exactly What I Needed, which plays up the optimistic/naïve tone that is pure post-Manchester and pre-cocaine.

And if Who Will You Call On? feels like it’s more adrift than adroit and Right On Time ideally is viewed through a light herbal smoke cloud, the image of Emitt Rhodes channelling Paul McCartney lives strongly in the wistful regret of a tonally lush but instrumentally restrained Whoever Comes Around, and there’s a Raspberries sugar hit in Want For Nothing that piles on harmonies and hazy tones before a snack-size guitar solo virtually grins at you.

The pop is open-minded throughout, meaning When I’m Back In Town Again channels surfside Beach Boys through some creamy Carpenters substrata, Neither Love Nor Money borrows from Stevie Wonder (brass and keys) as much as Neil Sedaka, while Champagne reminds me – forgive me – of Sailor. Yes, as in Glass Of Champagne. As in wide moves and wide flares and a hook that teeters on the edge of cabaret.

So, yes, sunshine abounds, but look a bit deeper and there are some darker lyrical corners in the Rault house: hurt, anger, sharp critiques and uncertain declarations. It’s not so much tears of a clown as life’s vicissitudes searching for the comfort of familiar pleasures. Which may as well be describing this album.


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