Based in Frome, The Jupiter Owls began life as a duo comprising singer-songwriter/ guitarist John Libert and guitarist Ryan Steele but have subsequently added the rhythm section of Kev Jefferies and Kevin Reed to add extra live dimension to their Americana-tinged chilled folk-pop. Drawing their influences from the late 60s/early 70s West Coast as well as the English folk scene of the period, as such James Taylor rubs shoulders with Nick Drake, CS&N and Simon & Garfunkel, the latter notably so on ‘Fractal Line’, the song from whence the title comes and which cleverly uses geometric terminology to etch its romantic image.
Recorded over a couple of years in, as per their label name, a cupboard under Libert’s stairs with the pair playing all the instruments, it has a moody bucolic quality that harks more to the dankness of wet leaves than dew kissed fields, Libert’s hushed, breathy vocals at times giving the oft melancholic songs a spidery feel. Case in point, the slide guitar coloured album opener ‘Drowning Man’ which uses suicide imagery to speak of a fathomless love.
By way of contrast, ‘Howlin’ Wolf’ is a train rhythm shuffle that, in addition its titular bluesman also namechecks Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins, not so much as in terms of the musicians per se but to indicate his state of mind as he recalls the flotsam of a past romance.
Maybe it’s to do with the West Country, but water and the weather loom large in the imagery, rain and thunder hanging over ‘Cape Cornwall’, even though it’s actually an upbeat rolling rhythm number about driving over the moors to the ocean with his girl to “cleanse my soul… poised like divers on the edge of the earth.” Or then there’s the undulating ‘Lightning Strikes The Sea’ with some lovely slide guitar conjuring a the rolling waves in a manner similar to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’.
Libert (who studied Landscape Architecture) draws on the landscape for his images too, ridges and valleys, hills, and crows in the sky providing the visual backdrop to the watery fingerpicked sway of the mandolin tinted ‘Long Way Home’ as well as the metaphorical forests of uncertainty and meadows of deceit. And yet the feel is mellow and uplifting.
Elsewhere the lazy jazzy warmth of ‘The Sweet Blindness of Summer’ is set alongside the frost beauty of the circle of life themed Winter, an image also encapsulated in the restorative meaning of letting things lie ‘fallow’, the idea of new starts also underpinning the particularly poetic lyrics of the chiming acoustic filigrees of ‘Different Dawn’.
If all these are sketches, by contrast, owls howling again, ‘Freight Cars’ offers a story-song about hearing about Elvis’s death on Radio Luxembourg and dreaming of becoming a guitarman to escape a dead end life in a ghost of town and “the stale smell of ennui” through music, but never quite getting to ride the rails away. In mythology the cry of the owl was often regarded as a good omen. Things certainly bode well for this.
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Artists’ website: www.jupiterowls.com
‘Kingheart Cowboy’ live in session: