This CD review is something of a special case, in that it actually comes from my own collection, and wasn’t bought specifically to review (and has been available since September 2016). However, it includes the last recorded work of John Renbourn, in a rare recorded collaboration with the almost equally influential Wizz Jones. Joint Control doesn’t, however, hark back to the heavily classically-influenced and mostly instrumental work that characterized so much of John post-Pentangle output. In fact, apart from one instrumental by Wizz, there are no original pieces on the album at all: rather, it’s a strong set of songs by two great guitarists who obviously enjoyed playing together on songs they must both have known from way back.
- ‘Hey Hey’ is the first instrumental on the CD, a version of the Big Bill Broonzy warhorse. However, even if John’s carefully constructed 2nd guitar part hadn’t given it an extra dimension, there’s an added poignancy: the sleeve notes suggest that this was the last thing they worked on together before John’s death in 2015.
- Dylan’s ‘Buckets Of Rain’ is a live version sung by John, and while he was never the strongest singer around, he was in good voice here.
- ‘Glory Of Love’ (Billy Hill) is one of the first songs I ever heard Wizz sing back in the ’60s: if you haven’t heard him sing it (or the Broonzy version by which he was strongly influenced), you really need to hear this to appreciate what a good guitarist he is. He sings it rather well here, too. John’s characteristic and nimble lead work doesn’t hurt at all, either.
- Mose Allison’s ‘Getting There’ sits somewhere on the borderline between blues and jazz, and seems to have been a regular feature of John’s solo sets. It suits his voice very well.
- While Wizz has sung many of Alan Tunbridge’s songs over the years, some may be more familiar with the version of ‘National Seven’ on John’s eponymous first album from 1965. This live version sung by Wizz is much closer to the way Tunbridge himself has recorded it, but with athletic lead guitar from John. Very, very good.
- ‘Mountain Rain’ is an outstanding story song by Archie Fisher, previously covered by Wizz on a studio album. I’m not familiar with that version, but this live version does it justice and then some.
- The Bahaman gospel singer Joseph Spence’s ‘Great Dream From Heaven’ (a.k.a. ‘Happy Meeting In Glory’) was long associated with the much-missed Davy Graham, and has much more of a jazz feel than the better-known version by Ry Cooder. It sounds to me more like a Renbourn solo than a guitar duet, but the sleeve notes don’t make it clear either way.
- ‘Strolling Down The Highway’ is another song of musical vagrancy, this time by Bert Jansch, from his first album, of course. (1965 was a good year for Folk Baroque…) Good version.
- ‘In Stormy Weather’ is a typically wistful song by the greatly underrated Al Jones, another track previously recorded by Wizz on Lucky The Man.
- Balham Moon is the only original on the CD, an atmospheric instrumental by Wizz with a second guitar part added by John.
- Perhaps the only Renbourn recorded performance I could never altogether like was his version of Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Blues Run The Game’, where the song seemed to get lost in the pace of the accompaniment. I preferred the original, or even Bert Jansch’s slower, more emotional version. The version here, sung by Wizz, is closer to Frank’s. I still prefer Frank’s vocals, but the tasteful lead guitar does work very well.
- Wizz’s guitar on Bert Jansch’s ‘Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning’ is less complex than the original, but the song suits his voice and John’s guitar is everything you’d expect.
- ‘Joint Control’ is an early Bert Jansch instrumental and this version is very reminiscent of Jansch and Renbourn circa the Bert and John Very classy.
There are quite a few videos around showing John and Wizz playing together, including versions of some of the pieces here, but unfortunately the recording quality tends to be low. Some of the tracks here are also live, but professionally recorded, and the difference is startling. This is comfortable, nostalgic fare, not novelty and dramatic experimentation, but it it’s a suitable finale to John Renbourn’s distinguished career, looking back over many decades of fine music and fine performances.
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‘Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning’ live at the Vortex: