It isn’t hard to reason why David Crosby is a big fan of Cardiff’s Zervas And Pepper. If he is as vain as some of his most vocal detractors claim, then it makes sense that he would endorse something that resembles his own music, and the brilliant ‘Hotel Bible‘ certainly achieves that, perhaps leaning even further towards his good friend Neil Young.
Still(s), Paul Zervas and Kathryn Pepper had only positive things to say about the legendary musician in a recent God Is In The TV interview, after several backstage meetings, and having warmed to them immediately upon my first encounter with the pair at one of old Shakey’s gigs a few years ago, I have no grounds on which to doubt the man’s geniality.
Zervas And Pepper themselves just get better and better. Since their debut album Somewhere In The City, the band’s winsome folk rock – perhaps even Americana – leanings have progressed still further with each subsequent release, marrying their own solicitous observations of the world with compositions of grandiose beauty. Wilderland, their fourth long player, continues the trend by also happening to be their best yet.
Like the brilliant recent Hurray For The Riff Raff album, Wilderland begins with the street noise of strangers’ conversations and the chants of Latin American natives on ‘Roses Of Jericho‘, which, thanks to Kathryn’s gently beckoning tones, becomes a smooth and utterly beguiling number showing genuine compassion for anyone who has ever fallen on tougher times. Such philanthropic standpoints run through the pair’s songwriting so effectively that you find yourself suspecting that a quick hug from either of them would possess you with super healing powers.
Vocal responsibilities are shared pretty much straight down the middle, and often hark back to classic artists of yesteryear, so ‘Dark Matter‘, aside from the usual reference points, also nestles neatly somewhere between Roy Harper and Jethro Tull, while the playful ‘Mountain To Ocean‘ possesses the same good time picnic feel that The Faces achieved on their career defining ‘Ooh La La‘. Elsewhere, the expansive ‘Change Courses‘, featuring a stunning take on piano by James Raymond, is really quite gorgeous. All of the songs here, in fact, have something of a timeless quality, so while you could, conceivably, attach the dreaded tag of ‘AOR’ to many of them, Zervas And Pepper have enough about them to prevent them ever drifting into the direction of ‘twee’.
One suspects that, had this record been made in 1976, people would still be talking about it in hallowed tones even now. Spectacular harmonies, masterly musicianship and a blissful warmth are omnipresent here and the arrangements, oh the arrangements, well, just listen to the magnificent retelling of the legend of ‘Mazeppa And The Wild Horse‘ or the soaring beauty of ‘I Leave No Traces‘ and that should leave you in no doubt about this band’s potential to be giants.
“Some say love’s a crime / I say love won’t be denied” sings Pepper on the Carpenters-like finale ‘Universe To Find‘ and quite frankly, it sums the whole thing up so neatly that I don’t have to. Bloody hippies…
Wilderland is released on June 23rd.