UB40 can be forgiven for getting a little maudlin, for enjoying some tear-in-your-beer saloon music. After all, it hasn’t been all red, red wine and roses lately for the British reggae-pop band.
First, founding vocalist Ali Campbell departed in 2008, then the remaining members of the group entered bankruptcy proceedings over debts relating to their record label. UB40 has regrouped with Ali’s brother Duncan, and is ready to release a second album featuring its new front man — this time, with a twist.
Getting Over the Storm, due September 3, 2013 from Universal/Virgin, is dotted as per usual with cover songs — but this time they are deep-country hits from the likes of Willie Nelson (“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”), Buck Owens (“Crying Time”), Randy Travis (“On the Other Hand”), Vince Gill (“If You Ever Have Forever In Mind”), George Jones (the title track) and (in an inspired choice) Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go.”
Couple those with the band’s other inevitable meditations on loss (including the Depression-era tune “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live,” and also their original “Blue Bilet Doux”) not to mention the weeping cries of petal steelist Melvin Duffy, and Getting Over the Storm starts sounding like a stiff shotglass of despair.
Never fear, though. This is UB40 we’re talking about, even in the absence of Ali’s familiar nasally vocals. The album swings and sways with an easy-going ambition, as a honey-voiced Duncan finds hope in every setback. Meanwhile, Brian Travers’ horn arrangements still feint and jab, while Earl Falconer’s bass thunks with a teeth-splintering profundity.
You’re reminded that their Neil Diamond cover didn’t seem to make reggae sense — at least not at first. In this way, Getting Over the Storm deftly recalls everything that’s propelled their 20-album career, even as it steers UB40 in another surprisingly successful new direction.