JACKIE OATES – Gracious Wings (Needle Pin Records NP2)

Gracious WingsWhatever Jackie Oates turns her hand to the result is always enchanting, captivating – if that doesn’t sound patronising, which is not my intention – and always with a surprise somewhere. Gracious Wings fits that description perfectly. It’s Jackie’s eighth solo album, which makes me feel old and her guests include John Spiers, Jon Wilks, Mike Cosgrave, John Parker and Megan Henwood. I remember when some of them were exciting new names and I feel older still.

Jackie begins with ‘When I Was A Fair Maid’, a variant of the female drummer story introduced by Wilks’ guitar. It’s a familiar enough story but the line “when taking off my trousers” suddenly got me wondering about military underwear in the 17th and 18th centuries. Extensive research (!) suggests that men commonly wore drawers, women less so, but there are differences of opinion. Jackie isn’t a rampant feminist as far as know but she does ensure that her tale has a happy ending.

‘Robin Tells Of Winter’ is the sort of song you would write in lockdown while watching the birds through the window which is exactly what Jackie did, listing all the common, and not so common, garden birds. It is paired with the title track, a solo morris jig, also a product of lockdown. ‘Tammy Toddles’ is a song for children from the singing of Lizzie Higgins, in stark contrast to what follows. ‘La Llorona’ was written by Jackie and Megan for Amy Mason’s comedy show but there isn’t anything terribly funny about it. The story of La Lorona is a common myth in Hispanic regions, a variation of the cruel mother theme. Jackie and Megan make their protagonist as much the victim as the baby she kills and sets the tale in modern times. It’s a brilliant song and the first surprise of the record.

‘The Ship In Distress’ is a familiar enough story although it’s a bit disconcerting to hear this sweet voice singing about eating cats and dogs with apparent relish. Jon Wilks’ guitar again provides a strong accompaniment. The second surprise is a cover of The Longpigs’ ‘On And On’ which doesn’t sound like something Jackie would write or sing. Surprise number three is ‘Iruten Ari Nuzu’, a Basque wool spinning song performed as a duet with John Spiers. Actually, it shouldn’t be a great surprise as it grew out of her Lace Tellings project.

‘Roobarb And Custard’ takes Jackie back to childhood although it’s really an excuse for Mike Cosgrave to have a blow while ‘Looking For My Own Lone Ranger’ is a cover of a cowboy song by Charlie Dore and Ricky Ross. ‘Lament To The Moon’ is a traditional song I thought I’d never heard before but then I learned that it was sung by Packie Byrne so it’s possible that I have. Memory begins to fade at my age. And there is a final surprise, a cover of ‘Time Time Time’ from Rain Dogs, my favourite album by the gravel-voiced Tom Waits. It’s full of brilliant lines and I wonder if Jackie has ever been “east of East St Louis”?

So, enchanting, captivating and spiced with surprises – Gracious Wings is all these things.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.jackieoates.co.uk

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