Lahri Bond penned this review.
Jez Lowe is one of the consummate performers in Celtic music today. Hailing from the Northumbrian lands of Northeast England, near the Scottish Borders, he brings a distinctively northern edge to his music. Lowe grew up among the coal miners and working class people of the region. The fact that he is Irish on both sides of his family gives him a bit of an outsider’s perspective, and a perfect viewpoint for his novelette style songs. Over his long career he has made many fine albums, each a little gem, and has been backed by some of Britain’s most understated and finest musicians.
In celebration of his many splendid years in the service of music and song, Tantobie Records (a fine new company who donates 5% of all retail sales to environmental, social justice and animal rescue causes) has issued a new double, live CD set, that includes multi-media tracks of video, photos and lyrics to be played on your computer. The album acts as sort of a live “Best of” and features the current version of Lowe’s touring band The Bad Pennies. The band consists of Billy Surgeoner on fiddles, keyboards, whistles and backing vocals, bassist, mandolin player Simon Haworth, and Judy Dinning on vocals, percussion and keys. Lowe himself, plays very classy guitar, cittern and harmonica, as well as singing in a splendid, gentle voice that sweeps the listener right into the middle of his story/songs. The line-up is rounded out on a few songs by Lowe’s one time duo partner Jake Walton from Cornwall, who plays the haunting Hurdy-gurdy.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing Lowe in the last few years will know many of these songs, but the arrangements have been subtly altered for the better by this almost entirely new configuration of The Bad Pennies. The album begins with a bang as they sing Lowe’s jaunty ode to infidelity: “Another Man’s Wife.” Other old favorites abound, including the childhood memories of “The Soda Man” and the Lowe’s coal mining trilogy of “Black Diamonds,” “Galloways,” and “Sweep Horizons Clean.”
Several more recent tunes are given fresh spit and polish including the political rage of “The Guilts,” and “Just Like Moses” from the great Bede Weeps CD. Judy Dinning gets her first lead vocal of the evening with “The Military Road,” a song Lowe wrote for her group The Lucky Bags. Dinning is an engaging vocalist and hopefully her exposure with The Bad Pennies will help bring her the wider attention she deserves. A few more highlights of Disc One include, the humourous old favorite from the Old Durham Road recording: “The High Part of the Town,” as well as a beautiful new Jez Lowe and Beverly Sanders penned lullaby called “The New Moon’s Arms.” The group finishes the first half of the show with “Tom Tom,” a cracking good song from the excellent Parish Notices CD. It features some of the group’s most impressive harmonies, backed by deep soulful percussion and the spooky addition of Walton’s hand cranked hurdy-gurdy.
The second disc also features a nice gathering of old and new material. Choice tunes such as the anti-war “Old Bones,” and the more light hearted “London Danny” (from which the group derives it’s name), mix well with rock and reel Elvis tribute of “Kid Canute,” and the constant crowd pleaser “Back In Durham Gaol.”
Dinning has another chance to showcase her lovely instrument on the lilting, melancholy “Weave and Worry,” and Lowe performs a stark and fetching rendition of “Greek Lighting,” his ode to modern love in a northern landscape. The album closes with what is perhaps Lowe’s most often requested song “The Bergen,” from his duo LP with Walton back in 1986. Here the song is given the full band treatment and you’ll find yourself singing along with the CD’s enthusiastic crowd.
The whole album was recorded during May 2000 at the Davy Lamp Folk Club in Washington, England, and it is a very good indication of what you can expect on the next Jez Lowe and The Bad Pennies tour – which should not be missed.
The interactive part of the package (housed on CD2) is a lot of fun, as you get a large scrap book of pictures, which you can “page” through one at a time, or see as a virtual slide show. The album’s massive amount of lyrics are cleverly house on a file too, so you can print out just your favorites to sing along with. There’s even an on-line CD and music book catalogue for easy ordering. The actual video is a bit jerky in it’s movement, and the sound is inconsistent, but hey, it’s folk music, it’s meant to be seen live. And that’s exactly what you should do.
(Tantobie Records, 2000)