March 2002

William Topley - Feasting With Panthers
Lost Highway  CD 088 170 241-2
Released: 2002

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]Do you like to travel? Does your soul long for fun in the sun? But are you unable, in your present financial position, to purchase a ticket for points south and find the time to go? William Topley may be the solution to your problem. All you have to do is toddle on down to your local record store and plunk down the cash for Topley’s new CD, Feasting With Panthers. And, for just the cost of this disc, you will be traveling -- musically anyhow -- to many of those southern ports you’ve been fantasizing about.

Right from the start, Topley takes us on a tour of the tropical musical high spots, from the southern blues/rock of "Back To Believing" (possibly the best Blues Traveler song that the group never wrote), to the Cuban salsa of "La Habana," to the bayou blues of "Drake's Drum," to the reggae of "Excuses." In Feasting With Panthers, Topley may well have finally found a consistent voice for his musical muse. While his previous efforts have always hinted at what this album brings to the table, they’ve always lacked Panthers' internal consistency. On Panthers, Topley achieves this newfound consistency by grounding all of the songs firmly in the blues.

What makes this recording even more remarkable is that all this diverse, yet consistent, music springs not from the mind of one weaned, raised and surrounded by all these different musical styles, but by a British lad dreaming of the tropics. Topley's fascination with Caribbean rhythms is well documented -- after all, it's what originally won him his first solo recording contract with Mercury Records.

Topley’s deep baritone proves the perfect vehicle for traversing the musical map. For an example, listen to how well his vocals complement the music on the song "Magnolia." I doubt there is another singer who could sing it as well.

As for the sound, well, nothing's perfect. It’s obvious from the get-go that this is a studio effort. However, given all the problems that arise from an over-reliance on the mixing board, there are still good points to the sonics here. The soundstage is wider than one might expect, and there is more than a hint of depth, as well. The instrumental separation is also very well done. I just wish that the vocals weren’t so hazy, and that the clarity and tone of the individual instruments were better defined. Still, for a small label, this is a worthy effort. (Why is it that the smaller the label, the more consistent the sound quality?)

Feasting With Panthers is an appropriate title for this album. William Topley has presented us with musical smorgasbord of diverse styles, all laid down over a bed of the blues. There’s enough depth in this music to separate it from much of the dross that passes for pop today. So grab this disc and travel the trade winds to the Caribbean.