What does it sound like?:
Sometimes the leaden plop of Faecebook can be enlivened by other than bad news or unwanted ads, sometimes it can offer a window of joy on even this most down cast of casting down days. Such did I discover this, the latest in a steady issue of releases from the reclusive master of the Cam delta blues, Robert Jonathans, if not necessarily in that order.
Don’t be fooled by the pay what you like, self-produced nature of this disc. If bandcamp has a plethora of bedroom gurners and bathroom posers, so too has it a stack of artists, there but for the grace of God, a God who sees fit to offer contracts and kudos sometimes randomly and often unfairly. This is well up to the standard of many a glossy A&R endorsed product, and better than many, household names included. Honestly. Firmly in that peculiarly English territory of Camden and Western, pleasing tunes, sung and played amiably, with an aftertaste of a good night out. Perhaps at somewhere like the Portland Arms, a place we will return to. If you like the music of Brinsley Schwarz and the solo offerings of any of the band’s erstwhile members, this is for you. If you like the comfy self-deprecation of Henry Priestman, of Anto Thistlethwaite, or of solo Chris Difford, this should hit your spot. Like a comfy jacket, a battered pair of baseball boots and wearing a hat indoors, this is unsophisticated feel good music that deserves a bigger audience. Mainly played by Jonathans himself, on guitars, bass, mandolin, keyboards, mouth harp and even penny whistle, with support from an array of chums on various other and additional instrumentation.
‘Fight Another Day’ kicks off with a jaunty mandolin riff, aided and abetted by the additional mandolins of David Edington, an entreaty to keep on keeping on, Jonathans’ vocals that perfect place between straining and strained, With a different accent, this could be Lindisfarne. As indeed, could the harp intro to ‘Good Enough To Me’, the melody then shifting off into Brinsley’s territory, the sotto voce yeahs a lovely touch, the guitar that follows the middle eight a lovely burst, if brief, of twang.
A change of tack into the jangle and bass of ‘Nightfall’, the vocals pleasingly on the cusp of hoarse, with pleasing bvs courtesy Liz Townsend and a double tracked Jonathans. A song, I think, reflecting on where we, in Team GB, are, it oozes melody, an unexpectedly retro flourish of mini moog a delight. Maintaining the variety with ‘Reformed Character’, it is a good ol’ honky tonk song of regret, or maybe of the opposite. A smoky barroom shuffle, with David Edington now turning his hand to fiddle, the fiddle dancing with dobro and harp in the backdrop. Not for the first time, I’m hearing the swagger and sway of the Rockingbirds, the song a standout thus far. Could this possibly be autobiographical?
A delicate fingerpicked ballad, piano adding some classy ambience, ‘We Can Never Return’, a engaging song of reflection. The piano, as well as some textural cello is provided, by Liz Townsend. More folk than country, Ralph McTell would sell his socks for a song like this.Needing a little respite, ‘Can’t Make Up Your Mind’ is simpler fare, any deficiencies in the song structure more than made up by the gradual entry of the whole bevy of additional instruments. The slide guitar is particularly effective, as it dallies with the mandolin and harp, electric piano burbling away deeper in the mix.
It’s funny, I was just thinking some steel might go down well here, lo and behold, along one comes, to embed ‘Changing Times’, another ballad of lonesome deprecatory regret. A Reggie Duncan plays, and he can. Very well. Again very Rockingbirds. Lovely.
I don’t know where ‘Deacon Hill’ is, but this is another wistful reverie of times past, penny whistle making a surprising yet effective entry, and, this time, a Cara Baldwin adding a vocal counterpoint. A singalong, swingalong for a balmy summer evening.Maybe to finish off such a day with perfection, a late evening saunter along to the Portland Arms would be just the ticket? ‘Down to the Portland’ celebrates exactly why you might and what you would find there, a descriptive story song that already makes me want to give it a go and go there. Think an ‘Angel Delight’ for the noughties, set in Cambridge rather than Cropredy.
‘When the Summer Comes’ is another Lindisfarne-y number, if spliced with a whiff of the Cosmic Rough Riders, and chugs cheerfully along, the dobro particularly effective under the chiming mandolins. The chorale of multi-tracked Jonathans’s give yet another flavour to the palate. Which only leaves room for elegant closer ‘William and Addie’, the pair pictured on the cover, it telling there tale, over a stately piano melody. Liz Townsend again at the piano, a more plaintive vocal from Jonathans. Strings, both synthesised and the violin of William Smyth, add to the gravitas, before a sudden sideways hurtle into hoedown, ahead the return to the main theme. A true tale, it seems, Jonathans is their great grandson and it is a striking end to a powerful set of songs.
What does it all *mean*?
Indeed, what dose it all mean? Maybe that we should worry less about what it all means and embrace the moment, along with each other.
Goes well with…
Life, hope and optimism, with a side order of sunshine.
It’s out! Bandcamp.
Might suit people who like…