The third of the solo back to basics recordings Raw trilogy reunites him with Geoff Hocking, the man who recorded and engineered everything he did as an emerging singer-songwriter in mid-70s Devon. He, together with banjo, dulcimer, harmonica, tenor guitar and trusty ’44 Martin are responsible for making this the most musically naked of the three albums although, as you would expect, there’s plenty of meat on the lyrics which, as ever, span the personal and the political.
It’s the latter that starts the ball rolling with the simple fingerpicked ‘We Looked Away’, a number which, musically borrowing from Dylan’s ‘One Too Many Mornings’, addresses how easy it is to turn a blind eye to what’s going in the world around us, variously alluding to the genocide, the rise of Hitler and climate change. Switching tack, coloured by harmonica ‘From Now On’ is essentially about anger management, sung in the voice of a jealous man promising to get a grip on his emotions and change his ways in an attempt to save his relationship.
Again a gentle fingerpicked number, ‘9 O’clock Angel’ is more enigmatic but seems to touch on ideas of innocence and mortality; however, there’s no mistaking the narrative to ‘A Child Was Born In Birmingham’ which retells the story of the Nativity in the city’s Bull Ring, cleverly reworking all the biblical elements, the three wise men being a doctor, priest and lawyer drinking in the bar of where else but The Lion and the Lamb.
Turning to banjo, ‘Stay’ is another relationship in stasis number (“You say you’re tired on thinking ‘bout tomorrow/You say you’re tired of waiting for the sun”) while ‘Shelley’s Heart’ would seem to find him putting his own spin on the folk staple about a young man drowned and an unaware sweetheart waiting anxiously back home, except it is in fact about the death of the titular mad, bad and dangerous to know poet who drowned in 1822 in storm off the Gulf of Spezia and who was cremated on the beach, his heart allegedly snatched from the pyre by his friend Edward Trelawny and buried with his son Percy. The Mary of the lyric is his widow who, as alluded to here, in 1824 went on to publish a collection of his works. Again it’s evocative of Dylan, this time ‘Chimes Of Freedom’, both musically and in its lines about writing his poems for “the innocents the dispossessed the weak/For those who cannot fight and those who cannot speak”.
One more proving a springboard into history for those who like to dig deeper into the songs, harmonica making a return, the strummed ‘The Crossbones Graveyard’ refers to the disused post-medieval burial ground on Redcross Way in Southwark, south London, not far from Shakespeare’s Globe, where it is believed up to 15,000 people are buried, many, as the song references, prostitutes known as “Winchester Geese” because they were licensed to go about their work by the Bishop of Winchester, ending, 200 years on from London’s shame, with the hope that such times never come again.
‘Broken’ is a more straightforward end of relationship number, the emotionally shattered narrator given a smile of recognition from a woman in the café with a pale ring where a gold band once rested. From loss and separation to a celebration of community, ‘Our Street’ is exactly what it says, a sepia archive newsreel in song of a neighbourhood and the many different souls who share their lives there.
It’s back to the political for the five minutes plus anthemic strummed Guthrie-esque ‘The Chainmakers’, a rousing song inspired by and about how, in 1910, the women chainmakers of the Black Country, particularly the Cradley Heath, responded to the call by the National Federation of Women Workers, led by the suffragette Mary Macarthur, for a strike in protest against their low wages, ending in triumph 10 weeks later, the song duly extending to commentary on the continuing gender gap in pay and end with an echo from Karl Marx that “You have nothing to lose now but your chains!”
He moves from the chain works to the mines with ‘The Coalminer’s Song’, another rallying cry for those left “dead but still above ground” with the closure of the Welsh pits, now like wounds carved in the land.
Meuross has a real skill in putting the lives of historical figures into song and does so again with the uptempo strum of ‘The Eyes of Ida Lewis (Row Ida Row)’. An American answer to Grace Darling, Idawalley Zoradia Lewis was, in the late 1800s, keeper of the Lime Rock Light near Newport who, at the time the highest paid lighthouse keeper in America, made her first rescue at the age of 12 and, in her 54 years at Lime Rock, went on to save at least 18 lives.
It’s back to banjo and break-ups for the Appalachian feel of ‘Moving On’ while, in contrast, flecked with early Paul Simon, ‘If She’s The One’ has the narrator unable to forget a girl seen in passing, serving as a metaphor for how “in the earth the promise lies the harvest and the seed”.
And from an unobtainable ideal love to the bitter collapse of what promised to be forever with the fairly self-explanatory ‘Our Love Has Turned To Hate’, a number that evokes the old time country of the Louvin Brothers and The Carter Family.
In some ways a companion piece to his earlier ‘Phil Ochs And Elvis Eating Lunch in Morrison’s Café’, the album ends with two more real life figures in the cowboy campfire strum of ‘Gene Vincent Jr & Billy the Kid’ which pulls together two of his Texas encounters, the first with an aged cowboy on a horse claiming to be the rock n roll star’s son (Vincent Eugene Craddock, Jr. died in 2006), “singing Be Bop A Lula aye eh”, and then with a woman in a bar claiming to be kin to the legendary outlaw and that he didn’t die at the hands of Pat Garrett but went on to a ripe old age. The point being that sometimes tall tales are preferable to reality because, as he sings “if he’s selling stories I’m buying/Cos there ain’t enough dreams on this trail”. You would do well to invest in Reg’s.
Artist’s website: www.regmeuross.com
‘We Looked Away’ – official video: