The roots of British folk rock outfit Cold River Lady can be traced back to the early 70's when the group first came to the attention of former Cream associate Pete Brown. Under Brown's tutelage Cold River Lady would go on to record a handful of demos, with various different lineups between 1971- 1976, however they were never able to snag themselves a record deal. Over the ensuing years Brown kept in touch with a few of the members and after forming his production company in 1991 he convinced them to have another go at it. While the results of those sessions were never released they've now been given a second lease on life thanks to Angel Air Records.
Appropriately titled Better Late Than Never, this album reunites core members Phil Weaver (vocals, guitars), Will Wright (recorders, organ, piano), Paul Cheshire (guitars, vocals) and Helen Hardy (vocals) once again, along with a couple of new recruits in John McKenzie (bass) and Bob Jenkins (drums). It should be noted that while he doesn't perform on Better Late Than Never, original bassist Mike Lawley contributed lyrics to no less than seven out of the eleven tracks on this disc.
Musically the vibe here is a fairly laid back affair with a straight ahead rock approach and a noticeably English flavor, both in the music and lyrics of songs like "English Graffiti" and "Hereford Girls". Weaver and Hardy share the lead vocal role pretty much evenly throughout, which makes for a nice change of pace and helps add a bit more personality and color overall.
As the album reaches the half way point the songs get better and better and the band gains more momentum by digging down deep and coming up with what has to be regarded as their strongest material. It begins with the older composition "Routing Through The Quagmire", a song marked by some stellar co-lead vocals between Hardy and Paul Cheshire, who also turns in some fine lead guitar work on this track as well. It continues through the aforementioned "Hereford Girls", "The Travellers" and climaxes in superb fashion with the final three compositions. "October Love" and "Far In The Fields" in particular act as perfect showcases for Hardy's soaring & poignant sounding vocals, and the later track is further colored with a light dusting of the recorder courtesy of Will Wrights subtle playing.
Better Late Than Never is a top notch effort from begining to end. It only took one complete run through for me to start seriously thinking about why this talented group of musicians were never able to crack the mainstream back in the day, but hey such is the music business. Angel Air should be commended for getting behind Cold River Lady and releasing this long overdue debut album. By doing so they've ensured that the music will finally get a chance to be heard, and hopefully in the process Cold River Lady can also get some of those accolades that they so rightfully deserve.
1) English Graffiti
2) The Promise
4) Soft Spot Rest
5) Routing Through The Quagmires
6) Hereford Girls
7) Sauna Bath Blues
8) The Travelers
9) October Love
10) Far In The Fields
11) Living The Lazy Way