The Oysterband’s frontman has been also following a solo career since the release of Rising Road in 2009, although the band’s schedule has meant he hasn’t had chance to put together a follow-up until now. Recorded with his sometime side-band, The Reluctant Ramblers, who include guitarist Al Scott, fiddle player Tim Cotterell, bassist Lindsey Oliver and Rowan Gödel duetting and on harmony with Benji Kirkpatrick and fellow Oysterband members Alan Prosser, drummer Dil Davies and new cellist Adrian Oxaal also providing contributions, it’s a less robustly rocking affair than the past couple of band albums and more inclined to the sort of rustic acoustic folk that reflects the pastoral inspirations and Jones’ walking passion that informs many of the songs.
Which isn’t to say it lacks muscle. Featuring driving background fiddle and Scott on bouzouki, ‘The Wanderer’, which references the Uffington White Horse, is a fairly punchy number while, inspired by the story of a girl waking from a drugs coma, ‘She Wrote Her Name Today’ rides a strident drum beat and fiddle swirl that calls to mind the anthemic work of early Runrig while also suggesting folksy version of Editors.
There’s also a rousing up-tempo energy to ‘Jim Jones’, a shanty-flavoured traditional number lyrically rooted in the convict transportations to Australia and the title track itself, which, much like a shark, sings about the need to be constantly moving (a metaphor for progress, here) in order to survive, is propelled by a suitably restless rolling wheels guitar riff. By contrast, slow-tempo album opener murder ballad ‘Down By The Lake’ is a far more contemplative affair. That was apparent inspired by a local tragedy around the Welsh borders where Jones lives while the story of someone he knows who found a magpie tied up in a plastic bag grew into ‘The Black And White Bird’ wherein the bird becomes a lover’s farewell token to the girl he’s forced to leave behind. Jones’ own background informs the simple, cello-streaked acoustic ‘Ferryman’ which, summoning thoughts of vintage Ralph McTell, casts his mind back to the “diesel river” of his Meltham childhood home.
History and imagination join hands on ‘Pierrepoint’s Farewell’ where, to fiddle, cello, simple circling guitar line and Gödel’s dual vocal, he recounts the events that led Ruth Ellis to the scaffold and muses on the hangman and his wife’s feelings as the moment of execution approaches. If that offers no explicit social comment, it’s certainly to be found on ‘Ghosts Of The Village’, a bouzouki led call to arms against the way England’s country villages have become taken over by wealthy city types and their second homes, absentee residents who have led to a dismantling of traditional communities.
The two remaining numbers are both traditional songs, Gödel sharing lead vocal on the Jones and Kirkpatrick’s tribal rhythm arrangement of the seafaring ‘Banks Of Newfoundland’ and, harking back to Jones’ own rambling soul, the album comes to a gentle close with ‘Young Rambling Boys of Pleasure’, a bittersweet lovelorn hymn to the urge to rove. A hugely impressive album, then, that goes to remind that Jones both talks the talk and walks the walk. Long may his feet carry him on.
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Artist’s website: http://jj-rr.org/
‘Down By The Lake’ live at Shrewsbury Festival 2014: