ANDREW JOHN & LISSA – Aren’t We Lucky (Last Resort Records LRCD011)

aren't we luckyAren’t We Lucky is the second set by Andrew John & Lissa to come my way this year. Whereas At Home was very much an (almost literally) home-brewed production with just a little help from a couple of musical friends on a few tracks, Aren’t We Lucky was recorded in Nashville with support from a wide range of musicians. Don’t expect a country-and-western album, though, despite the reference to Bill Anderson below. Most of the songs here are Andrew’s, and while he’s been living in Denmark for many years, there’s something very English about his story-songs and the way they’re arranged instrumentally.

  • ‘Happiness’ (K.Jönsson/C.V. Meincke/Andrew John) owes nothing to Ken Dodd/Bill Anderson. On the contrary, it’s about lost happiness, and suits Lissa’s vocal very well. There is a slightly ’60s feel about the song, though, with Eastern European-ish strings harmonizing here and there around a minor tune, though the pedal steel behind the bridge brings us back to Nashville. If you remember “Those Were The Days” (or even Leonard Cohen’s take on Lorca with “Take This Waltz“) with affection, you’ll probably take to this.
  • Andrew’s song ‘The Little Light’ refers to “that little light that’s at the bottom of the bottle”, and although it sounds like a classic country theme, Andrew’s typically idiosyncratic lyrics and chord changes are very English: his dramatic vocals perhaps less so.
  • ‘Butcher Boy’ is a traditional song in the “Died For Love” vein. Though this version sets the scene in Dublin, the lead-in from violin and pedal steel reminds us that we’re in Tennessee. Apart from the additional instruments, the arrangement is actually very similar to the piano and voice version on the At Home album I reviewed here earlier in the year. In fact, Lissa sounds more comfortable with the song in this version, and the harmonies on the last two verses are far stronger here.
  • ‘Sensible Shoes’ has a sax intro over a deceptively familiar chord sequence which soon goes off into some of the modulations so typical of an Andrew John song. A very pop-ish arrangement that suits his voice very well and goes out with some stratospheric sax.
  • Andrew’s ‘Diminished Boogie’ includes some agile banjo and harmony vocals that may well remind you of the Andrews Sisters, wrapped around a sequence of diminished chords that may enthral or infuriate you. Kind of clever, though.
  • ‘Twenty Years’ also makes much use of tenor sax and some nice electric guitar. It’s another sharp Andrew lyric with a rock-y arrangement that makes the best of his vocals.
  • There’s also a version of Andrew’s ‘Fiji’ on the At Home album, which gets much of its atmosphere by being dominated by ukulele. The augmented instrumentation on this version, however, benefits from some very upfront, very Hawaiian steel guitar. Either way, it’s a very catchy song with appealing vocals from Lissa.
  • ‘Unattached Love Song’ features Andrew’s vocals and frames his writing skills in a somewhat pre-war tinged arrangement. It’s an interesting song (as all his songs are), but it stretches his voice uncomfortably in the upper registers.
  • ‘All On My Own’ is yet another of Andrew’s songs, with Lissa taking the lead vocals. The arrangement is kind of old-fashioned, but in a pleasing way.
  • Andrew’s ‘Vin’ was co-written with Allen Olsen. Not, as you might think, a paean to French vin rouge, but a story song about “one of those losers that only God can really love” with a look back to some much-missed 60s musical icons.
  • Andrew’s ‘Goodbye To An Old Friend’ is an attractive tune with a lyric that sounds rather personal, though it’s always dangerous to make that assumption, and I couldn’t make out all the words on the second verse. Lissa’s delicate lead vocals work well and are complemented by pleasant chorus harmonies.
  • ‘The Stories I Could Tell’ is a song by Paul Millns – now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time, though when I lived in London I came across him from time to time in very good company. It’s an excellent song, and Andrew makes the best of his vocal abilities by varying between a semi-spoken delivery (I could imagine Mark Knopfler singing this) and hard-hitting double-tracking. Some atmospheric oboe, too.

Fans of Andrew’s writing and the vocal pairing of this engaging duo will not be disappointed.

David Harley

Artist’s website:

Album medley:

SINGLES BAR 15 – Merry Christmas Everybody

A round-up of festive EPs and singles

Singles Bar 15It’s been a busy few months for THE CHANGING ROOM, aka Cornish duo Sam Kelly and Tanya Brittain. Having released both their Names On A Wall EP for Armistice Day and the Picking Up The Pieces album, featuring mandolin and accordion, they now return for Christmas special, The Magic Of Christmas. Two of the three tracks are sung in Cornish by Kelly, opening with a lovely snowflake waltzing version of The Pretenders’ 1994 festive hit, ‘2000 Miles’ and closing with a chiming frosty air arrangement of the traditional carol ‘Silent Night’. There’s also a snatch of its melody on ‘There’s Magic In Christmas Eve’, which, sandwiched in-between, is penned by Brittain, who, singing in English, accompanies herself on piano as the song swells midway on drums and strings before a gentle fade.

its-christmas-timeIf you’re more a “Bah Humbug” sort of person JOHN CEE STANNARD’s EP, It’s Christmas Time, should be just up your street. Of course, Christmas can be a sad and lonely time for a lot of people and we shouldn’t take that lightly but the blues does seem to lend itself to the season. Black Ace’s ‘Beggin’ Santa Claus’, first recorded in 1937, is the perfect example of how low things can get while Shifty Henry’s ‘Let Me Go Home – It’s Christmas’ is a plea to whiskey to allow a barfly to get home while he still can. The other three songs are by Stannard and, starting with the title track, they get progressively happier and the closing ‘Winter Love’ is almost soppy. We reckon John’s an old softie really.

god-rest‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is a more traditional Christmas single from JOSHUA BURNELL. That said, we’re told that it’s a 15th century protest song – the protest being against the Latin dirges of the church. Joshua gives it an appropriate folk-rock vibe – he usually performs in a trio or a seven-piece band in which Hammond organ features heavily. The second track is ‘The Official Brawle’, a 16th century French dance tune taken at a tasty lick. The tune was, as you all know, co-opted by the church as ‘Ding-Dong Merrily On High’ but Joshua returns it to its original form. Good stuff.

marys-boy-child‘Mary’s Boy Child’ was originally written as a calypso so ANDREW JOHN & LISSA decided to record the backing tracks in Trinidad, adding the vocals back home in Denmark while Jime Hoke recorded his flute part in Nashville. It’s very pretty but I can’t help but I do think that an opportunity to do something really original has been missed. Turn up the steel drums and add a Caribbean choir and think on what it could be.

the-starEMILY MAE WINTERS’ single ‘The Star’ was inspired by lines from John Keats and having a star named after her as a birthday present. It doesn’t actually mention Christmas but it has a nicely seasonal feel. It’s a big, piano-driven song awash with strings. It is available only as a digital download at the moment but it will appear on Emily Mae’s debut album next spring.