JUDE JOHNSTONE – Living Room (BoJack BJR2221960-3)

Living RoomAs I noted in my review of her previous album, Johnstone is better known as a songwriter than a performer in her own right, her work having been covered by many of Americana’s great and good. As such, Living Room, often stripped to basics with minimal arrangements (the sleeve is just a black and white photo of her and a piano), might be seen more as demos for potential covers by artists looking to add some extra class to their albums than a spotlight for Johnstone herself, but that would be to overlook the quality she brings to her own material.

It opens simply with ‘Is There Nothing’, just voice, piano and Bob Liepman’s cello unveiling the end of a long relationship as she watches her partner walk out of the door to be with his new lover, the tune co-composed by the wonderfully named Blessing Offor, a former contestant on The Voice. Indeed, there are several collaborations, both in terms of music and lyrics, here, the second up being ‘My Heart Belongs To You’, a co-write with Nielson Hubbard and the ubiquitous Ben Glover, the latter part of the backing vocals while David Brewer contributes penny whistle and Johnstone sounds like a female Tom Waits. Glover not only also shares a credit on the similarly themed, Gaelic-flavoured piano waltz ballad ‘Seasons Of Time’, but also sings lead while Johnstone harmonises and accompanies and Olivia Korkola adds violin to the cello and whistle.

She also takes a vocal backseat on ‘That’s What You Don’t Know’, co-writer Hunter Nelson stepping up for a dreamy, pedal steel caressed evocation of some 40s ballroom slow dance on a song about how the screen persona of its celluloid star hides the sadness of the man behind the smile for the camera.

Her vocals back in the mix behind the piano, the reflective ‘All I Ever Do’ adds percussion and David Pomeroy’s fretless bass to the pedal steel and whistle with Tim Hockenberry on harmonies as the lyrics mix loss and hope in the lines “It’s a lonely life I’m living/But I’m gonna wait and see/What this old, broken-down world/Has left for me”.

Again featuring cello and pedal steel, ‘One Good Reason’ is a wholly self-penned song of a relationship in crisis, but not yet past the point of no return (“We’ve got so much to lose/You’d never be so blind/Or fool enough to choose/To leave it all behind”), while, shifting rhythm patterns, ‘Serenita’, co-written with Maggie Doyle, sung by Brandon Jesse, Johnston duetting on the chorus with Linley Hamilton on trumpet, turns to storytelling about a wedding doomed to tragedy when a storm blows in, the groom left waiting at the chapel and now drinking away his despair.

Another solo Johnstone credit, here with Matt Rollings adding accordion to cello and pedal steel, ‘I Guess It’s Gonna Be That Way’ strikes a seasonal note, although its theme of being alone at Christmas with your regrets, through the actions of your own dysfunctional heart, is on the bittersweet side of festive.

The final two numbers are both all her own work, Nick Scott and Hockenberry accompanying on upright bass and trombone, respectively, for ‘So Easy To Forget’, a song of the hurt of being let go that essentially revisits Jim Reeves’ Am I That Easy To Forget’ from the female perspective of “an ordinary fling” who’d hoped for something more. It ends in total solo mode with ‘Paradise’, a song about past dreams, present laughter and future hopes that play out as a wistful piano ballad but which, in other hands, could equally as easily be transformed into a Springsteenesque full-powered anthem. That’s the sign of a real songwriter; the album serves eloquent reminder that Johnstone superbly embodies the singer half of the hyphenate too.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.judejohnstone.com

‘One Good Reason’ – live:

Colin Harper releases remastered and expanded album

Colin Harper

Colin Harper, author of several books on music history, released his first national-level album in March 2016, Sunset Cavaliers – a homage to the musicians and musical eras chronicled in his books. A ‘treasure seeker’ as a music archaeologist, if Harper has a ‘buried treasure’ of his own prior to Sunset Cavaliers it is Titanium Flag – originally a vinyl-length instrumental album, inspired by the history of Arctic exploration, recorded in 2010 and limited to 100 copies. An icy sound-world of guitar, violin, clarinet, flugelhorn, piano and drums, with forays into chamber music, progressive rock and ambient, it defies easy labelling but fires the imagination. It was dedicated to one of Harper’s inspirations, Dutch guitarist/lutenist Jan Akkerman (ex-Focus).

At the very moment of pondering, at his home in Belfast, a remastered edition of Titanium Flag in the wake of Sunset Cavaliers’ warm reviews and airplay, Harper received an invitation, in Dutch, to join someone’s professional network on LinkedIn: Jan Akkerman.

Harper: ‘Suitably inspired – by the karma, not the invitation to join LinkedIn – I emailed Jan with an idea and ‘Greenland: East To West’, inspired by 19th Century Norwegian adventurer Fridtjof Nansen, is the result. Jan’s epic solo is the imagined sound of a man raging against the howling snowstorms of the pre-Victorian Arctic, single-handedly creating the ‘heroic age’ of exploration. It transpires that Jan is still the master of improvisational and inspirational guitar. But I have no intention of joining LinkedIn.’

Harper reassembled the original ‘Titanium Flag orchestra’ – jazz broadcaster/bandleader Linley Hamilton (flugelhorn, trumpet), orchestral musicians Alan McClure (violin) and Rachelle Stewart (clarinet), and céilí band drummer/closet rocker Jim Cuthbertson (drums) –and added Irish jazz pianist/bandleader Scott Flanigan and local bass maestro Ali MacKenzie along with Jan in Volendam and flautist Premik Russell Tubbs (ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra) in New York. Further cyber collaboration, between Belfast and Australia, was going on with producer/recording artist Martin Tinson and guitar legend Martin Cilia. The result is three new pieces of music, added to the start of the album.

Four vocal tracks, recorded during the original Titanium Flag sessions in 2010, are added at the end. Other guests on the album include Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones (ex-Quintessence) and Andy Roberts (ex-Liverpool Scene, Plainsong). The audio was remastered by Denis Blackham and the package comes with a detailed 12-page booklet and a fold-out pair of vintage maps of the Arctic regions. I believe that Titanium Flag is the best thing, musically, I’ve done, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to make it widely available. But I’m also hoping I don’t have any more musical inspiration for a while!’

Artist’s website: http://colin-harper.com/