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Heartaches and Harmonies: Bedsit Poets’ All Roads Lead Me Back

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It’s been a 16-year wait for fans of songwriting duo Edward Rogers and Amanda Thorpe who, along with their producer, arranger and accompanist, Don Piper, released two, critically acclaimed albums in ’05 and ’08. Although based in New York at the time, they found themselves on the charts in Canada, did some performances together up there and then life got in the way. Both continued in music, but Thorpe did so in her homeland (Britain), while Rogers, originally from England (but a long time New Yorker) remained in the U.S. and released solo albums, and more recently as part of Rogers & Butler. But, as they sing on one of the best songs on this new album, all roads lead back to London, where Thorpe resides. A few years ago, the two began writing songs again. This is the result of that collaboration, with the duo aided by Piper and some of the best New York studio musicians, and a very fine result it is. There are some superb duets here and whether they’re trading verses or interweaving vocals, it’s thoroughly captivating.

All Roads Lead Me Back is a tale of two cities, New York, and London, with Rogers providing the New York swagger and Thorpe the London charm. Imagine Lou Reed and Willie Nile on a double date with Marianne Faithfull and Bridget St. John. The transatlantic borders are not so sharp however; Rogers reveals British influences such as Donovan and Kevin Ayers, while Thorpe steps beyond her comfort zone and at times recalls Patti Smith at her feistiest.

The opener, a modern, loopy invitation to “Come See About Me” (not the Supremes song) comes with some groovy bass from veteran Sal Maida and serves nicely as an introduction. A true gem of a ballad entitled “London Town” (not the Wings song) follows. It features a perfectly appropriate guitar intro by James Mastro. French horn adds just the right touch. This one is up there with the best the Bedsit Poets have ever done. Next comes a rocker, “Pelican Club,” an ode to a long-gone New York nightclub of a different name. Musically it’s The Velvet Underground by way of Kevin Ayers’ “Thank You Very Much”. (Rogers once dedicated a whole album to Ayers.) Mastro’s lead guitar here is like something right out of the 2nd VU album. We even get some John Cale-style piano. Thorpe begins the plaintive “Scarecrow” next with a wonderfully fragile vocal. Happy one moment, then filled with doubt–and she sounds it. It’s exquisitely arranged with a lovely Spanish guitar solo and a spoken word ending by Rogers.

“Shadows into Ashes,” introduced by some splendid mandolin, picks up the pace. This time it’s Rogers’ turn with Thorpe joining in on the choruses. Their vocals interweave quite well here. “Everything But” closes the first half–a gorgeous love song sang by Thorpe with some relaxed Vince Guaraldi-like piano by Joe McGinty and upright bass by Tony Scherr. Uplifting with a touch of melancholy. “The Dark Night” consisting mainly of a recitation by Thorpe and a call for action chorus, reminds one of early Patti Smith. The pair trade verses once again on “My Precious Dear,” another highlight marked by a searing solo from Mastro.

Maida’s bass slides right into “Heartbreak Baby,” a beguiling, snake charming portrait of a mystery woman. Jazz guitar and upright bass combine delightfully on “Never Had the Chance” with a just touch of funk added in the middle. “The Ragpicker” is always reaching for diamonds but winds up with coal; the chord progression in this one descends suitably along with the protagonist’s downfall. Wasn’t it just yesterday The Bedsit Poets opened their first album with “February Kisses”? Today they close with “December My Dear,” a lovely but sorrowfully aware finale. And that’s something of the atmosphere that pervades throughout this collection of pieces. The “heartaches and harmonies” the duo became known for are back in full swing but with a maturity; a world weariness you might say.

But not tired. On the contrary.

Let’s say, worldly but not weary.