When I lived in South Shropshire I saw and heard quite a lot of Jack Brett, and knew him to be a seriously talented practitioner of the guitar (especially slide guitar), much in demand locally as a soloist, as an accompanist and with the bands Red Madog and Blue Moon. But I hadn’t realized until recently that he’s also developed into rather a good songwriter. I’m a little behind the curve as regards his CD Jack Brett Plays The Blues And Other Melodic Misfortunes: it’s been available for a few months now, but I only recently caught up with him at a session in Ludlow and persuaded him to let me scrounge a review copy. All parts are performed by Jack except where noted on the track-by-track listing below.
This isn’t exactly a blues album, in that there isn’t a straight 8/12/16-bar to be found, and Jack’s voice is nearer to Jeff Buckley than Howling Wolf: however, several of the tracks have a decidedly blues-y feel, enhanced by some classy slide.
- ‘Diesel’ has a decidedly blues-y feel. I love the line about “potpourri of the working man“.
- Perhaps I’d better take Jack’s warning about “overanalysing” ‘Toxic Distaste’, lyrically at any rate. It’s the vocal on this track that reminded me a little of Jeff Buckley, but Jack’s writing is all his own.
- ‘Steady on the Road’ is perhaps the nearest to a classic blues form, though it morphs into something more ethereal before fading away on some very nice rock-star slide.
- ‘I Want My Hat Back’ features Nick Hurt’s bluesy harmonica and some excellent lead guitar (which reminded me a little of Artie Traum in electric mode) in a somewhat jazzy song.
- It’s a long time since I made my living out of playing, but ‘Gettin’ Paid’ still rings a bell or two. Mind you, if I could manage a slide solo as blistering as the one featured here, I might just try for a life on the road once more.
- The slide on ‘Hospital Radio’ is more reflective, but no less effective, and is augmented by strings, played by Andy and Alex Cook. A very effective, very personal song.
- ‘Sing, You’ll End Up with More Dosh’ is a short slide instrumental with a fragment of conversation that sounds like one of those gems of unsolicited advice that most musicians are offered at one time or other. Would that have been at that well-known busking venue, the Butter Cross in Ludlow, I wonder? J
- I find it hard to believe that anyone ever told Jack to ‘stop singing, you’ll make it rain!’ If they did, his song ‘I’m Making It Rain’ proves how fortunate we are that he didn’t take that advice.
- ‘Don’t Have to Meet Her Father’ is about setting your standards high.
- ‘Down to Earth Dirt’ fades out with some emotive saxophone from Gerson Engels.
- I suspect that Jack has drawn on his own history for many of these songs, but I know that ‘Overgrown’ is dedicated to Jack’s late father, Paul Brett. A lovely song – indeed, a strong contender for my favourite song of 2017. The CD and live versions both feature the violin and cello work of Andy and Alex Cook, augmenting Jack’s delicate guitar and impassioned vocals.
That’s the end of the CD listing: however, if you opt for the Deluxe version, available for digital download below, you can get four additional tracks.
‘Old Songs’ and ‘Simple Rules’ are tracks that didn’t make the CD (but are well worth hearing), ‘Hospital Radio (Stripped Mix)’ is a version of track 6 above that omits the slide but brings out the string arrangement by Andy and Alex Cook, and ‘Down To Earth Dirt (Extended) is a version of track 10 with an extended version of the sax solo by Gerson Engels. (And very nice it is too, a little grittier than the version on the CD.)
Both iTunes and Amazon categorize ‘Down To Earth Dirt’ and ‘Simple Rules’ as explicit, which strikes me as being over-cautious, apparently based on the presence of a very mild alternative term for excreta in the lyric, rather than an extreme leaning towards gangsta rap. Still, if you’re a more sensitive person than I am, you’ve been warned.
However, if you like the sound of well-played, well-sung versions of some fine songs, give this a listen.
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