This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 10/00
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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For those unexposed or underexposed to the music of Jez Lowe, you're in luck. Those already familiar with this talented performer from the north of England will undoubtedly concur. Encompassing 23 selections from his multitude of releases, Lowe's latest is a solid overview, featuring many of his most familiar tunes, in a live concert setting. Aiding and abetting Lowe throughout is his band The Bad Pennies, which lends to a fuller sound than that of his solo shows.
Having neither the vocal power nor mien to rant, Lowe's music still contains a quiet forcefulness. But his best attribute is the graceful eloquence in which he captures time and place, often taking the smallest moment or event and framing it with a universal human applicability. "The Soda Man" and "Weave and Worry" are among the many prime examples of such.
Lowe also penetratingly portrays his local history and culture. From the shuttering of the coal mines to the shattering of individuals and communities to the freedom the closures allowed for the pit ponies, he pulls no punches in "Black Diamonds," "Galloways," "Sweep Horizons Clean," and "These Coal Town Days."
Providing a window of insight into human relationships, Lowe offers "London Danny," "Another Man's Wife," "Greek Lightning" and the previously mentioned "Weave and Worry." His haunting "Last Of The Widows" makes the listener truly feel the ache of the woman involved. Based upon an actual coal mine disaster, Lowe, out of respect for both the dead and the living, didn't write the song until the last remaining widow had indeed died.
Lest one think dressing in black is a prerequisite to listening to this music, Lowe also has an impishly clever side. "High Part Of The Town" and "Big Meeting Day" display his charming wit. In "High Part Of Town," he sings of his mother leaving his father, making the choice to live from "hand-to-mouth than live from day-to-day." Her departure appears to be a blessing in disguise because it cured his mother's headaches and his father's black eyes. Then, when asked during a geography lesson in school where coal comes from, he replies, "next door's yard."
"Big Meeting Day" depicts a coal miner's annual holiday gathering in Durham. Thinking a uniformed party-goer is a lost colliery member, Lowe sings of consolingly offering what turns out to be an innocent insult, saying "I hope you find your band." The person haughtily replies "I'm a traffic warden and I hope I can find your car." He continues with the failure to recognize a familiar but momentarily unplaceable face out on the street--it finally clicks when the man says "come on now son buy your dad a drink." Then, revelers lock their bus driver in the boot to keep him sober and, forgetting where the bus is parked, their plan of action is "when the rest (of the buses) have gone, the one that's left will be for us."
Don't confuse this with a "Best Of" offering even though almost all of Lowe's best-known songs are included. It may seem as such but that's not the intent and nuggets such as "The Midnight Mail," "Father Mallory's Dance" and "The Parish Notices" didn't make the set list. Don't fret though--this will convert the previously uninitiated and more than whet the appetite of the old fan.
It should be noted that Disc Two contains lyrics, a video clip and photographs from Lowe's personal scrapbook and a printable catalogue, along with access instructions.
Lowe sings and plays guitar, cittern and harmonica. The Bad Pennies consist of Billy Surgeoner on fiddle, keyboards, whistle and vocals; Judy Dinning on vocals, percussion and keyboards; Simon Haworth on bass, keyboards, mandolin and vocals; and Jake Walton on hurdy-gurdy.
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