A Review of the John Blanks CD
"Better Late Than Naked"

"Better Late Than Naked"
by John Blanks

Acoustyistics studios JBCD001.
copyright: John Blanks 2005.

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 10/06

Well, I suppose that I should make an admission at the outset of this review. John Blanks is a guy well known to me, and a guy furthermore that I presented an award to just four days ago, when he won the far from non-prestigious 2006 BBC Write A Folk Song For Lincolnshire competition, singing a fine song he had co-written.

But that said, just as he knew the other day that I would be totally objective in my role as a competition judge, so likewise, I am not setting out to do him special favours here.

So let's look at what he has presented us with.

At 57 years of age, John has come up with his debut album. Talk about “long overdue”! I find it hard to believe that such a consummate performer who has played so many clubs in the East Midlands of England, should wait so long. Quite why he has, I am not sure. I often think that he does not quite believe in himself as much as WE believe in him.

He has come up with a CD that is just him and his guitar: a truthful representation of the man himself in live performance. Congratulations are due to engineer/co-producer John Robinson of Acoustyistics for coming up with a wonderfully clean and faithful sound.

That guitar sound of John's comes through my speakers with a ringing authority. John's guitar is more than authoritative: there are times it is COMPELLING. John is a guy who once sat at the feet of the great Jack Hudson, and it shows both in his guitar playing and his mellifluous vocals.

Indeed, he does one of Jack's own songs here: “Driftwood and Nails”. It is one of the standout cuts, on an album of largely contemporary songs by other people.

He does a little overdubbing of vocals here and there, but his otherwise wondrously gimmick-free approach, really does pay dividends.

The highlight for me was his version of Peter Bond's “Joe Peel”. Not since many years ago when I first heard Bond himself sing this masterpiece, have I so enjoyed it. Extraordinary. He put back into the song the little something that was always lost to me when I was listening to June Tabor's broodingly atmospheric but over-mannered delivery.

Some of the other tracks push “Joe Peel” close. John Blanks has commendably NOT served up the musical equivalent of fluff from his navel (as so many singer/songwriters these days alas do), but has gone LOOKING for quality songs for his live act and for this album.

Any quibbles? Not really. Perhaps he missed a real trick with Track 7 “Who Will Be My Nightingale?”

Just a mile or two from his door lives Sue Dewsbury who could surely have been invited to sing her glorious harmony line to it, like she always does in club performance? She is one of the great contralto harmony singers on the English folk scene.

And one other quibble comes with his notes on Dave Wilson's song, track 4.

In them he likens the fate of the Dust Bowl migrants from Oklahoma ­ immortalised by Steinbeck's Tom Joad - to current day, so-called, “Asylum Seekers” here in Britain.

Frankly John, it will not wash.

Show me any immigrant in Britain today who is giving her lactating breast to a malnourished wizened friend/relative/hobo, in order that he stay alive? (Like Rose of Sharon did in that Steinbeck masterpiece.)

No John, let us get it right here. The Okies were the bravest and most savagely unfortunate of people: folk who'd often buried their own nearest-and-dearest at the very spot they died by the very hard road they'd been travelling down. No money for a proper funeral.

By comparison, illegal immigrants and asylum seekers to Britain in 2006, are in the very lap of luxury. Cats in cream. I hope you are blushing crimson, my dear John, for even drawing the FAINTEST comparison. (I know WHY you drew it: it is because you are a fundamentally decent person. But my dear fellow, do not throw your critical faculties out of ONE door, while you are simultaneously inviting these new UK settlers in through ANOTHER !)

Now, those two caveats apart, this is an album well worth buying. Get it from John at his e-address. He is based in Gainsborough in the UK.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

Track List:

  1. Forty Five Years (Stan Rogers) ­ 3.20
  2. Annachie Gordon (Trad) ­ 5.28
  3. Driftwood and Nails (Jack Hudson) ­ 5.08
  4. Orange Trees and Dusty Roads (Dave Wilson) ­ 4.43
  5. Night Visiting (Trad) ­ 5.06
  6. Old Bones (Jez Lowe) ­ 4.13
  7. Who Will Be My Nightingale? (Simon Johnson) ­ 4.10
  8. Joe Peel (Peter Bond) ­ 5.29
  9. Come Home Safely To Me (Allan Taylor)- 4.24
  10. Half a Man and Half an Elephant (Andy Scattergood & Steve Cartwright) ­ 5.42
  11. Found and Loved (Harvey Andrews) ­ 4.05
  12. Lay Down Your Weary Tune (Bob Dylan) ­ 4.13

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