By now, regular Music-News readers must have noticed that yours truly has a soft spot for artists from Down Under, and although Charlie Lankester has been residing in the UK for some time, there is no denying his background.

“Charlie who?” I hear some of you say. Hopefully though, singer / songwriter and pianist Charlie Lankester will become a regular fixture amongst Music-News review pages.
But first let’s backtrack a little: during his time in 1970’s Australia, Mr. Lankester was a medical school student but dropped out in pursuit of his inborn talent. Take a wild guess, for it wasn’t the talents of a morgue assistant! Correct, CL had always fancied himself as a musician – a pianist to be precise. Support slots for the likes of Fats Domino, BB King, JJ Cale, AC/DC, Billy Joel and even Status Quo ensured that his name gained constant credibility. Lankester even had a band at the time, aptly named The Last Chance Café, who had reached cult status. But just as a major recording deal was about to be struck, the band imploded and the lucrative deal went the way of the dodo.

Cue for heading toward Europe! Charlie busked time away in various places before arriving in Blighty - settling down in London and taking up training as an osteopath. For the last twenty years this Dr. Jekyll turned into Mr. Hyde by night, indulging in his foremost passion as a musician. The split personality concept paid off and resulted in Charlie playing keyboards for such luminaries as Osibisa, Linda Gail Lewis, Otis Grand, The Boogie Band and the John Warwick All Stars. Far from being content with such engaging and exciting activity, he followed his dream of dishing out his own full-length album, written by him just for him. Taking time out, he created bluesy, rootsy gems full of multi-layered intensity and above all, class.
But just when Charlie was due to mix the final track of his debut album, life held yet another cruel blow in store for him. The former medicine student was diagnosed with incurable cancer of the liver!

Never one for giving up, Charlie Lankester laughed fate in the face with the words “No mate, that’s not gonna happen. I’ve got an album to release.” Rather than undergo cruelling chemo- and radiotherapy, he opted for the alternative medicine route comprised of dedicated diets and supplements. His tumour has now been reduced to fifty percent, and his since released album ‘Song In A Minor Key’ is on repeat-mode on my stereo, ready to be reviewed.

Together with his band The Mojo Killers – comprised of Derek Mandel (guitars), Mark Hawkins (guitars), Dave Cuthbert (bass), Daniel Howard (drums), Paul Silver (saxophone), Gavin Broom (trumpet) and Nick Mills (trombone) – Charlie Lankester has conjured up more than just an impressive first album!
Opening track ‘Greed’ is both heavy on piano and trumpet; in fact, there’s a decidedly Spanish feel to the track’s horn arrangements. Obviously Charlie’s time in Spain has rubbed off on him. Quite melodramatic and intense, the number is best enjoyed with a glass of Bull’s Blood red wine while listening to it.

‘Drink My Blues Away’ sounds – as the title suggests – laidback and bluesy, while at the same time some sizzling guitar riffs provide the snarling element. Charlie’s voice, too, is a tad on the coarse side here. A great tune and of the kind you expect to hear in a Southern honky-tonk dive. Or an Australian one.

Never mind the Deep South or Australia, we might as well stay in Brixton, for ‘Brixton Road’ is one blues-riddled tune effortlessly slithering between sizzling guitar and passionate piano. Our frontman’s voice here is smoother, though coarse suits him better I feel.
The simmering ‘Out There’ has an unexpected change in pace, with its slick sax interludes the number is a serious contender for sophisticated lounge music.

‘The Spinning Of The Wheel’, although not particularly outstanding, is nonetheless full of rootsy elements, however, it is ‘In My Time’ that sends shivers down my spine. A bit Stones orientated and obviously gospel influenced – the sleazy guitar gives great contrast to Charlie’s wailing sing-song. It’s perhaps the most blues-infused number of the whole album, and also my favourite one.

Title track ‘Song In A Minor Key’ comes across as rather solemn in mood and reminds somewhat of Nick Cave. More a melancholy ballad accompanied by subdued horns, this seems an odd choice for a title track… seeing how the overall album is promoted as a ‘virtuoso blues-rock’ affair.
Things fire up again on ‘Rio Grande’ with its jaunty ragtime feel, while I imagine the somewhat lengthy ‘Ballad Of Scarborough Beach’ as a duet performed with Bob Dylan…

Echoes of Santana combined with Muddy Waters ring through on ‘The Real Real Gong’, the looseness of the guitar held together by rhythmic vocal work and an intensely jazzy piano.
Another inspired oddity is ‘Troubled Mind’ which recalls song-writing and composition in the tradition of a French chanson.
Closing track ‘Closed Door’ offers elements of the above, but also of the above and the above… you get me. It also boasts a scorching guitar solo that feels disconnected to the rest of the song, but is executed fantastically.

The album is a mixed affair full of surprises, and never a boring chord to be heard. That aside, I feel that Charlie Lankester’s virtuoso musical skills shine brighter in the realms of blues- and jazz-rock land rather than in cloudy ballad land, but that is for him to discover and to decide. Hopefully, his future journey is not only blessed with creativity and good fortune but with good health.