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William Topley
FEASTING WITH PANTHERS
(LOST HIGHWAY)

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William Topley is in some ways a throwback to the first British Invasion, when white English singers fetishized the style of black American bluesmen. Topley, the former singer for the Blessing, evokes processors with his sly slurring (à la Jagger), his hoarse declamations (think Eric Burdon), and the mellifluous cadence of the young and rough Van Morrison. So no surprise that heís the only Brit on the rootsy, Nashville-based Lost Highway label.

Feasting with Panthers opens with the unbeatable trifecta of wet-kiss harmonica, heroic organ, and shimmering wah-wah guitar on "Back to Believing." "Magnolia" is a tone poem, part Kerouac, part Van Morrison; "I Canít Wait" sounds like a great John Hiatt song that Hiatt hasnít yet written. Thereís a classic reggae move on "Excuses" that has the kind of authenticity-once-removed that neither Sting nor Eric Clapton nor any other Jamaica-infatuated classic rocker has achieved. Only consecutive ballads drag down the end of the disc, and "Drakeís Drum" has some nerve not calling itself "Mystery Train," even if it is about Sir Francis Drakeís attack on a treasure-laden mule train in 16th-century Panama. With other references or influences said to include Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, Graham Greene, and Ernest Hemingway, Feasting with Panthers may yet be the first Anglo-American blues-rock record to get the endorsement of Oprahís Book Club.

BY WAYNE ROBINS

Issue Date: March 7 - 14, 2002
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