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LUKE JACKSON - Fumes And Faith

LUKE JACKSON - Fumes And Faith
Pipe Records PRCD024

In a recent review in these pages, I wrote of the well-documented problems inherent in the “second album”, when the first one has turned more than a few heads.

And guess what? We potentially have the same phenomenon at work here, for Luke’s debut album More Than Boys was sufficiently impressive as to garner him not one but two nominations in different categories in the 2013 BBC Folk Awards. So was he going to fall at the second hurdle, or take it effortlessly in his stride?

Before I give you my considered assessment, let me just say a word or two about Luke, for the reader of this review who might not be familiar with him or his work.

Luke Jackson is not yet out of his teens, and still has the face of someone who could easily be a boy soprano at the cathedral in his native Canterbury. Come to think of it, his quite beautiful voice would not be out of place either. It is a tenor voice with an ethereal quality to it: he strikes me as Kent’s answer to Rufus Wainwright.

Visually, he is a very strong brand: almost indecently handsome with real charisma. Already he has them sitting at his feet, and has a fair number of his fans swooning and dreaming of “what might be”, if only they could get close to him! Fortunately, he is a performer with his feet on the ground: and is one who has real musical and artistic integrity, otherwise he could easily allow himself to become a crossover artiste and mega rich as Pop’s next teenage heartthrob. The new James Blunt perhaps.

So there we have it. Preamble over. What did I make of his second album?

Well, one is immediately struck by the absence of any complicated musical arrangements: only one other musician for the whole CD – bassist Andy ‘Wal’ Coughlan – is featured in the credits in the liner notes. It is none the worse for that however, as Jackson’s voice and own guitar are strong enough to carry all before them.

There is nothing “samey” about the 11 self-penned tracks: they are laudably different in musical style and subject matter. And that is an achievement in itself. So often in albums one encounters a track six that is track 5 backwards (and that in turn was a re-hash of track 4).

Put a gun to my head though and ask me if I found them melodically memorable, and I would probably say no. Though track 5, Out Of Time has managed to stay in my head, so that today, a full day after hearing the album for the third time before writing this review, I can happily sing it a cappella when handed the lyrics from the nicely produced liner notes.

And having slightly damned his gift for writing distinctive melodies with faint praise, let me try to not make a similar judgment re his lyrics! Though, that said, as for Luke’s imagery and rhetorical flourish …don’t go looking for another young Jackson Browne! Oh, do not wilfully misunderstand me: he tells his stories very competently, but the killer line is rarely there. That said, when it is there, it makes you sit up and think that if he is capable of such an exquisite insight, then he can do it again and again in the future.

The opening lines to track 3 – the title track – give you a hint of what he has in his armoury if he wants to delve into it. He says of his hometown: “Well boys are smoking green and they slowly fade away/Girls are in their bedrooms reading fifty shades of grey/So when did reality lead us all astray”. That will raise an eyebrow of even the harshest critic, and makes him open his ears to the rest of the song.

And then in the best song on the album, track 8, Charlie In The Big World – a song about a pathological liar – he suddenly hits gold with this: “And if lies are just dreams by any other name/Then maybe they’d come true just the same”.

What a profound insight! I look forward to more of such, in his next album, no doubt the third in a great many to come from a clear talent.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 101 of The Living Tradition magazine.