John Jones - Rising Road
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John Jones
Rising Road
Westpark Music ( www.WestparkMusic.eu)

John Jones, the inimitable lead singer of the Oysterband, launches his first solo outing with the superb album Rising Road. Members of the Oysterband have, over their thirty plus year history, been given the latitude to pursue other projects: guitarist Alan Prosser has released albums under his own name, and longtime drummer Lee Partis recently left to pursue his therapeutic counseling work in prisons. Jones had apparently felt the itch to make his own personal statement, and on Rising Road he is joined by some of the young luminaries of the contemporary U.K. folk scene, including Seth Lakeman and Benji Kirkpatrick, as well as his old friend Alan Prosser and the multi-talented skills of producer and musician Al Scott.

Recent Oysterband albums have seen a smaller role for Jones’ melodeon playing, and do not expect any of that on this record. The essential focus is on Jones’ voice, and it is front-and-center, his full emotive quality explored across Rising Road’s twelve tracks. Seven of the songs are traditional, while five were penned or co-penned by Jones. The healthy dose of “trad. arr.” is, of course, deliberate, as Jones aimed to record songs that he not only felt a close connection to, but which also express his deep connection to folk music and the landscape of the countryside. In fact, the liner notes for Rising Road make special mention of Jones’ fondness for long-distance walking; he has walked across Wales more than once, and to initially promote the album, Jones even set out from his home in the Welsh Borders and walked to each venue, ending at the Oysterband’s Big Session Festival in Leicester.

Rising Road is a fit, focused, and trim album. The album kicks off with Jones’ own “Let Me Fall,” setting Jones’ voice against a dark drone and Prosser’s minimalist electric guitar: “Let me fall/so I might rise up/once more into a world of dreams.” The traditional “Polly On The Shore” follows, keeping the sonic landscape of the album dark and lean. Jones’ version was inspired by the prison recordings of Alan Lomax, and as a result this version of “Polly” is punctuated by a rhythmic humming and a percussive, metallic beat that provides the song with its unique drive.

As with his work with the Oysterband, Jones proves masterful at rearranging traditional material so that the songs bore deep into your mind in the manner of the best pop tunes. “Searching For Lambs” is a perfect example: how many times has this old chestnut been dusted down by folk revivalists? However, Jones’ interpretation becomes a duet, again incorporating a humming melody and a lean, funky rhythm. And after Bellowhead’s insanely enjoyable, disco-laden version of “Fire Marengo,” I wasn’t sure if I would ever hear this sea song again clearly. Jones keeps the call-and-response of the shanty, and the interplay of the banjo, violin, and percussion is both rocking and beautiful.

Jones’ original songs on Rising Road live up to the inventiveness brought to the whole record. “Henry Martin” is not the traditional song about the pirate, but a call out to “Henry Martin, of no fixed abode/believed to be traveling with his girlfriend Maria.” It’s an odd, haunting song of taking to the road, slightly ominous, and Jones’ lyrics have plenty of space in them for the listener to imagine why the lovers may have left town. “Walking Through Ithonside” adds a strong personal dimension to the album, and it speaks to Jones’ love of perambulating through Wales. One could easily imagine this song coming to Jones on one of his long journeys, his voice calling out over the hills.

The last few years have been banner times for folk music in the U.K., and Jones’ Rising Road easily ranks among the best work in the genre. The album closes with a spare reading of “Newlyn Town,” where piano and dulcimer frame Jones’ voice. The refrain “…that they may say/and speak the truth/there goes a wild and a wicked youth,” is simultaneously wistful and matter-of-fact. It’s a fitting lyric that calls to mind Jones’ respect for, and his creative updating of, tradition. Ramble on, Mr. Jones! – Lee Blackstone

CD available from cdRoots

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"Polly on the Shore"

 

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