I became a convert to Welsh poet-novelist-playwright Lyndon Morgans’ often talk-sing vocal style and deeply poetic narrative lyrics with the band’s second album and have not been disappointed since. Joy Street, his seventh release, doesn’t break the spell. Produced by Nigel Stonier and featuring backing trio of Karl Woodward on piano, mandolin and banjo, drummer and accordionist Dave Paterson and Jasper Salmon on violin, Morgans is in an atypically upbeat mood, not just lyrically but musically too, with ‘It’s Not A Love Thing’ a joyful, bouncy fiddle-led pop-folk number sung without any mannerisms and one of several to feature Thea Gilmore on backing vocals. The same verve spills over into ‘Raise Your Glass In Praise’, a six and a half minute celebration of an eclectic list of things that ring his bell, ranging from jelly beans, mist over meadows, Blonde On Blonde and hot Soho nights to grassed over graves, empty fairgrounds and “all the lips I kissed on my way to you”. It even has a catchy refrain.
Not, of course, that he’s forsaken his familiar melancholy. Despite the title, the simply fingerpicked, sparsely accompanied ‘Joy Street’ itself is weighed with reflective regret (“they fight and laugh and bluff, mourn the old neighbourhood gone and stuff, look back on the lives they’re gonna lose soon enough”) as is the accordion and fiddle carousel-waltzing ‘A Ukulele Whizz Looks Back’ with its barroom conversations between old friends about memories of times, songs and women past (“in the headlights swimming on my bedroom wall I see us playing in the lane till it got too dark to see the ball, didn’t think we’d ever grow old”)… and ,of course, some ukulele.
Memories, the passing years and romances lost to time also inform the ‘The Old Superhero’ with its swayalong cabaret-tinged chorus (and subtle nods to Cohen and Bowie) featuring vocals from James Trott, Anna Zweck, , Biff Roxby, James Kelly and Alyss McBirney, the musical box flavours of the valedictory memories of youthful romance in ‘Amen, Baby, Amen’ featuring Margit van der Zwan on cello,. Likewise, ‘The Dry Wind of Oblivion’, a theatrical styled number that nods to his Jacques Brel influences as he sings “you bit down to my heart and left it beating in a bowl, my blood still dribbling down your chin as you started on my soul.”
Heading into the final stretch, you’ll probably get a good idea of the mood in ‘Razor-Wire and Tinsel’ from the title, reminding me slightly of those talked type songs Steve Harley once did, Woodward on harmonica and Jimmy Forres providing the contemplative electric guitar solo for a slow march rhythm in service of yet another look back into the heart’s bruised past as he muses on how “sometimes you can be so unhappy having the time of your life”.
Despite telling a tale of doomed holiday romance, ‘Helldorado’ is a more musically upbeat track with, as you might surmise, a Texicana flavour to its acoustic guitars, squeezebox and Liz Armour’s horns, while, every bit as downcast as it suggests, ‘Love Dies Petal By Petal’, is a forlorn gradually swelling acoustic ballad anchored by a lonely drum beat about a love withered by whiskey and blow, its air of resigned acceptance summed up in the line about how “now it’s just the corners of your mouth that smile hello” as he pleads “I’m not a bad man anymore.”
It ends on a final note of desperately trying to regain a love lost or thrown away with ‘All Those Afternoons’, a wistful la la la punctuating Cohenesque lines like “be my nemesis, my gaoler, my catastrophe, my bane, I’d love you to forget me and then remember me again” and how “we’re all traitors to someone or to something in the end.”
He calls Joy Street a place “where life happens, any human highway or byway”. You should take a stroll, it’s superbly well paved.
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‘Smoke-Rings & Shaving Cuts’ – live: