Music Reviews, Reg Meuross

Reg Meuross – England Green And England Grey

On England Green And Grey Reg Meuross has put together a full band line-up including long term collaborators Jess Vincent (vocals) and Roy Dodds on drums and percussion. This is the satisfying sound of a group of musicians very much on the same wavelength, presenting a collection of songs that vary in style yet fit and belong together like the many and varied elements of a bespoke suit.

The opening three tracks set the tone of the album in that they relate aspects of England old and new in terms of both regret and celebration. Firstly, “What would William Morris say, if he could see England today?”, Meuross asks. The answer while not explicit is implied in a lyric describing the replacement of pianos in pubs with karaoke machines and the disappearance of farms to make way for big industry’s warehouses. The current trend towards mass disenchantment with politics (perhaps it was ever thus?) is encapsulated in the line, “Liars all speak politics with poison on their tongues”.

Balancing this take on the decline of communal culture and the lack of esteem in which politicians are held today is “Tony Benn’s Tribute To Emily Davison”, in which the writer’s admiration for these two pioneers of English society in the century just gone is evident. The swishy pitter-patter of brushes on drums and a piano picking its way lightly forward recreate the furtive movements of the suffragette as she crept through the Palace of Westminster to protest in support of universal suffrage by taking up residence in a broom cupboard on the night of the 1911 census in that House which back then admitted no female representation either in person or in votes.
Meuross is, like Ray Davies, a perceptive chronicler of the moments, events and characters who conspire to shape the great sweep of England’s social and cultural history. England Green And England Grey’s title track, for instance, could be put to work by innovative teachers up and down the land in the service of sparking debate among and firing the interest of drowsy teenagers who would otherwise be snoozing through their dull, dank Monday afternoon history class. Coincidentally, the writer’s soft, clear voice sounds not at all dissimilar to the that of the Kink as observations such as “Austerity and slavery – I thought they were behind us” trip off his tongue.
The music takes on an American, countryish sound for the middle chunk of the album. Given the influence that the States have had on English culture – music in particular – over the last sixty years and more, this is pleasingly apt. There’s the magically evocative tale of a traveller whose “future lies in ribbons of river, rail and road”, which with Mike Cosgrave’s piano bass notes rumbling forebodingly beneath warm layers of vocals and Phil Henry’s lush dobro, feels every bit like the latest incarnation of Cash, Jennings, Kristofferson and Nelson’s Highwayman.
Many’s the album that peters out with a few weaker songs towards the end. In the case of this one, though, the quality remains staggeringly high throughout and the emotional highlight arrives on the tenth track. The Band Played Sweet Marie is a touching, heartbreaking song imagining the thoughts and feelings of Maria Robinson, whose fiancée Wallace Hartley was one of the 1,500 people who drowned in the North Atlantic’s icy water when the Titanic went down. Hartley, the ship’s bandleader, had been given a violin  – engraved, as an engagement gift – by Maria, which was later found and returned to her in its leather bag that it’s thought he strapped to himself in his final moments. This beautiful, tender love song imagines and captures Maria’s almost unbearable sadness, and with it therefore the devastating sense of loss that thousands suffered following the ship’s demise. “Every note my darling played took further away my love from me.”
See the title track’s video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdewAuU3nMc
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Kelly Oliver, Music Reviews

Kelly Oliver – Far From Home EP

In Kelly Oliver the British folk music scene is witnessing the emergence of a bright new star. What a coup it is for the new independent label Folkstock Records to have her debut EP as its first release. In turn the Folkstock label, known predominantly for its support of emerging singer-songwriters, is the perfect home for Kelly in the early stages of what Far From Home indicates will be a long and sparkling career.

Kelly’s mature voice belies her young age. The natural melancholy in it is well suited to the title track, a song about a seemingly doomed love affair but which leaves the door slightly ajar for fans of a happy ending. “He was always far from home, but he knew he’d always come home”. Her singing bears favourable comparison with Joan Baez, rising to land on higher notes with ease and unerring accuracy. When she holds long notes the effect is as fresh and vibrant as a warm summer breeze.

Far From Home leads into Keilan Are You Coming, an upbeat track dipping a toe into folk-rock territory. The subject of the song is a boy in a shanty town. The singer of the tale is invited into the boy’s mother’s threadbare home to eat. What happened before and what happen after are left to the listener’s imagination. This is artistry at it’s best – like a good play or film it makes you think. That’s often everything an artist hopes to achieve. Mission accomplished.

The EP’s closing track, Brazil Song, has much in common with Keilan Are You Coming in that it’s likely a postcard from time spent travelling. This one (well timed in World Cup year) records the writer’s experience of the first and developing worlds meeting and the contrast is startling: “You know great, I’ll show you small. You know wealth, I’ll show you poor.”

Grandpa Was A Stoker sounds like in time it will come to be seen as the EP’s highlight. It does one of the things that folk songs that stand the test of time often do – it tells a story that can be passed on to future generations – a story that might be lost forever were it not recorded in this way. As such it can be a valuable source of material for social historians. This song vividly describes the travails of a ship’s stoker who endures back breaking, mind bending toil to provide for his loved ones, and so as the ship can sail. It showcases Kelly’s guitar playing, harmonica and vocal skills. Her voice is softly and enigmatically accented into a smooth blend that sounds neither entirely British, Irish or American – more all three at once – like Judy Collins for instance. As she sings she picks out a counter melody on the guitar which adds an extra layer of depth to an otherwise stripped back sound. The song progresses into a Donovan’s Catch The Wind style strummed rhythm and takes in some tidy harmonica too. All the elements are tied together and balanced beautifully by the other youthful individual involved in this recording, producer-engineer Lauren Deakin Davies (also of the folk-pop group Delora).

Folk music needs artists like Kelly Oliver. She’s one of a new breed of young singer-songwriters who take their influences from the folk greats of old, like Bob Dylan and Luke Kelly. Most importantly, she’s injecting new material into a genre which, perhaps more than any other, needs constant renewal and development to survive.

I fully expect Kelly to be receiving nominations and picking up gongs for Best Newcomer, if not Best Vocalist and Best Song/EP outright, when the awards season returns at the end of the year.

Far From Home is available to hear and buy now: http://folkstockrecords.bandcamp.com/album/far-from-home
It will also be released on iTunes and Amazon on 14th February 2014.

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Music Reviews

Never Die, by Campbell Young

Pop music’s early purveyors hoped they’d die before they got old. Later generations realised happiness can exist beyond – in some cases only be experienced after – youth’s departure. Never Die is a prime example of this maturing of the 20th century’s favourite musical genre from adolescents’ rebellion into food for the soul of the modern adult.

Campbell Young is from Oklahoma via Kansas City. The lead track from his debut EP captures a moment in time that everyone feels, or certainly hopes to, at some point in their life. “My life is at the mercy of happiness, Where I’m seeing all the things that I used to miss. I know I’m so happy that I could cry – that I just hope that I never die.” In putting his epiphany down in song he gives the listener proof that joy is there for the taking once you see life clearly.

This recording is defiantly rough around the edges, as are heaps of Bob Dylan’s most affecting records. Ditto early Billy Bragg. There’s an exuberance in Never Die that hasn’t been lost to excessive overdubs or piecing together of different takes. On occasion Young’s vocal is double tracked. It lends a summeriness to his Billy Joe Armstrong style delivery that will extend its appeal beyond punkers. His willingness to let an “imperfect” guitar part remain is to be applauded, giving as it does charm and character similar to that which you hear in Nirvana’s Unplugged cover of The Man Who Sold The World (the bit when Kurt Cobain, beginning the instrumental outro, lands beautifully on a “wrong” note).

The only criticism I have of Never Die is that its intro lacks the dash of colour, and therefore individuality,
that a hook, riff, or any kind of noise – perhaps from Young’s voice – would add. That minor gripe aside, I can confirm Never Die is a worthy and life-affirming addition to pop’s canon.

The Campbell Young EP will be released on January 7th 2014.
Hear it (and pre order if you wish) at http://campbellyoung.bandcamp.com/

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