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Mike Vernon is something of a legend within the blues scene. Exercising his musical chops as a member of both The Olympic Runners and Rocky Sharpe & The Replays during the 70s and early 80s, he's perhaps better known for his work as a producer, with a rather impressive list of credentials, having working with the likes of Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, David Bowie, Level 42, Roachford, Ten Years After, et al. He also founded the blues-based label Blue Horizon. Now, seemingly fulfilling a lifelong ambition to front his own R&B band, here he is giving his vocal chords a good old workout in his eponymously named Mike Vernon & The Mighty Combo, with the new outfit's debut album.

'Beyond the Blue Horizon' might be cunningly titled within the context of this stage of Vernon's career, but the music thereon is firmly rooted within genre parameters of yore. Stylistically, it's not particularly looking beyond any horizons. Far from it. This is all about musical regression and Vernon celebrating his evident love of R&B from a bygone era. So much so in some tracks, that it verges into mimicry, with 'Heart & Soul' conveyed as some kind of 'I've Got You Under My Skin' pastiche - the Cole Porter composition, made famous by Frank Sinatra decades later.

It's all a rather twee and "polite" musical outing and, while many of the lyrics are innocuous enough, the subject matter of certain songs are perhaps misplaced and inappropriate within the twenty first century. 'Jump Up' treads a thin propriety line, with lyrics veering towards anachronistic, patriarchal-centric assertions of control; a standpoint as outdated as the music itself. Elsewhere, however, numbers such as 'A Love Affair with the Blues' is just as it says on the tin.

Vernon's smooth-toned voice is a hundred per cent apposite for the style of music on the album. It fits perfectly. A great tonality and timbre to his vocals throughout, and with a few nice inflections here and there, which add a bit more character to his delivery. And his assemblage of players that constitute "The Mighty Combo" are talented folk in their own right - namely young Spanish guitarist Kid Carlos; upright bassist Ian Jennings; saxophonist Paul Tasker; keyboardist Matt Little; and sticksman Mike Hellier. They all gel perfectly together in bringing Vernon's retro vision to life.

A great organic production throughout lends itself ever so well to the nature of the regressive songwriting. And the tracklist, while largely comprised of original compositions (albeit stylistically imitative), also features three covers - Brook Benton's 'Kiddio'; Mose Allison's 'Your Mind Is On Vacation'; and Clarence "Frogman" Henry - '(I Don't Know Why I Love You) But I Do'. They fit into the flow of the album well, as it's the style of such tracks that Vernon has opted to mimic through his own material.

Overall, 'Beyond the Blue Horizon' is a nice, twee listen that sees Vernon eventually fulfilling a long held dream. However... man, that cover... what was the designer thinking?! Maybe they were aiming for a vibe that looks like an advert for some sort of easy listening tribute act appearing on a cruise ship. At least they got the "easy listening" bit right.
Manhaton Records
Review by Mark Holmes
7th Sept 2018
1) We're Gonna Rock the Joint
2) Kiddio; 3) Heart & Soul
4) I Can Fix It
5) (I Don't Know Why I Love You) But I Do
6) Be On That Train
7) Your Mind is On Vacation
8) Old Man Dreams
9) Jump Up
10) Red Letter Day
11) A Love Affair with the Blues
12) Hate to Leave (Hate to Say Goodbye)
"Stylistically, it's not particularly looking beyond any horizons. Far from it. This is all about musical regression and Vernon celebrating his evident love of R&B from a bygone era."