A companion piece of sorts to 2011’s The Dreamed And The Drowned in that it’s another limited edition (1000) collection of previously unreleased material, the tracks here spanning 2013-2017 and, as with its predecessor, Songs About A Train while not conceived as a unified album, the quality of the writing and performance ensures they hang together perfectly.
Save for the opening track, the bucolic reflective love song ‘Letting Go’, which features Rabbit Bundrick on soulful keys, bassist Simon Edwards and Roy Dodds (who also engineered the album), it’s primarily all just Reg and a guitar with just a touch of banjo and harmonica here and there.
As with his other work, the songs range across themes of relationships, social commentary and history-based storytelling, the latter brilliantly illustrated in ‘The Angel Maker’, a gently fingerpicked harmonica coloured number that unfolds the tale of Amelia Dyer, a former Victorian nurse who, after she was widowed became a baby farmer, adopting unwanted infants in exchange for money. There’s an unexpected tender tone, the lyrics asking “did you wrap them up warm… did you rock her to sleep?”, which compounds the chilling facts that, although initially caring for those in her charge, some died and she was charged with neglect, going on to subsequently murder an estimated 400 babies before being executed in 1896, claims of her mental instability much disputed, the song a veiled commentary on the nation’s neglect of such children.
It’s preceded by a story of a different era and nature, ‘Martin’ based around the story of St. Martin of Tours, a young Roman soldier who, legend has it, became a conscientious objector working for those in need after seeing Christ wearing the same cloak he’d earlier given a beggar at the gates of the city of Amiens, the lines “I will wrap my coat around you, I will share with you my bread, you are safe and you’re protected” patently having a contemporary resonance.
A third, fiction-based, narrative is found in ‘Idaho’, the poignant tale of a small-town girl who became a singer and wrote a song for the mother that left hoping she’d one day hear it, heading for America in search of herself and a love to rely on.
Bruised and broken relationships, distance and absence provide the basis for several numbers, among them ‘We Haven’t Started Yet’ and the resonatingly strummed ‘I Understand’ with its sad acceptance of a lover’s need for space and reassessment (a song which, for those of an age, may call to mind the similarly-themed song of the same title by Freddie and the Dreamers) ‘Little Acts of Vengeance’ also offers a nice break up genre spin about holding on to resentments and anger over things that can’t be changed and only end up consuming you.
Those looking for more upbeat notes are directed to ‘A Quiet Night’, Reg on Appalachian dulcimer, for a hymnal song about finding peace, tranquility and calm with the one you love, the balm for a restless mind, and ‘Ring The Living Bell’, not a Melanie-cover, but (I suspect once intended for December) an optimistic hope for a new year, a song about giving and receiving, New Year’s Eve resolutions and an invitation to “drink the season’s glass with me beside the fire”.
The track finds him on banjo for a gospel bluegrass number about the power of songs to carry message of truth and hope, revelations of the heart and catharsis or protests against war or social injustice, or maybe just girls and cars and trains. It ends on a similar audience rousing, inspirational and healing note with ‘The World Being The World’, a Dylanish strumalong about enduring supportive love and friendship and seeing the light rather than the darkness and how the road less travelled feels like the road home.
Dedicated to the late Stephen Jordan, former head of the Bodleian Music Library, who inspired him to stick his hand down the sofa and see what songs had been lost, this isn’t just a case of clearing the shelves, more a case of, as Jordan put it, finding the right shelf to file them on. Your musical bookcase will be empty without it.
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Artist’s website: www.regmeuross.com
‘Ring The Living Bell’ – live with Phil Beer and Geoff Lakeman: