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JON HARVISON - Still Water

JON HARVISON - Still Water
Irregular Records  UNLABEL012

This is Jon’s seventh album, and his second on the UNLaBELLED label for Robb Johnson’s Irregular Records of Hove.  Jon’s is a name that will be familiar to many TLT readers from his performances at festivals up and down the country.

Following on from his 2006 release of Alibi Of Innocence, Jon has produced another album that astonishes one in its diversity of subject matter.  It goes from the anger/melancholy of the 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay (Still Water); to his chagrin at the sell-out that Tony Blair turned out to be (Gates of Eden Closing); and goes via a quirky tipping of his hat toward his favourite TV weatherman (According To Paul); to include a howl at the Chinese government over their policy in Tibet (North Face of Everest).

So, no “one trick pony” is our Jon, that’s for sure!  There is never a dull moment here.

The CD really benefits from Jon surrounding himself with some big-hitters as studio musicians.  Dave Moss really delivers on a variety of stringed instruments, and Masha Kaestner on keyboards.   But best of all, is Mr Harvison himself, with his pitch-perfect delivery and strong voice so redolent (in texture terms) of Tony Capstick at his peak.   He does every song true justice.

However, there is a “but” coming.  And it is quite a big “but”.

You see, I think that Jon the performer, is a lot better than most of his material.   And since most of his material on this CD is self-penned, that makes him an engine not firing on all cylinders.

It is no coincidence that by far the best cut on the album is his re-working of a song from the singing of Tommy Sykes Daniel of Batley: Poverty Knocks.  He does a fine job on this classic, and really injects his heart and soul into it.  And he does not do a bad job on the traditional Scarborough Fair either.

I would love to see him do an album of other people’s songs.  He could really pull it off.

But his singing of his own songs somehow does not convince me in quite the same way.    And whilst I salute him his courage on his subject matter, I have to say that I retain reservations as to the songs themselves.

Oh sure, on first listening, the songs are clearly “worthy” enough, but somehow, that is just what they remain.  Decent efforts, that somehow lack that vital spark.    But hey, that said, you cannot fault Jon for pinning his colours to the mast.  I like a songwriter who is prepared to tell us what he believes, even if it may run counter to my views.

For instance, I have no problem with him thinking that a road halfway up the North Face Of Everest is sacrilege.  (I don’t share that view: I think it a rather wonderful engineering feat.  And so what if they build toilets for tourists at the top of that road?  The lower slopes of Everest currently are scarred with used toilet paper!)  My problem is that in song terms, the song never moves from base camp.

I think that there is a big album in Jon Harvison.  This alas, is not it.   But were I to be given this CD as a birthday present, I would be more than happy to receive it.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 88 of The Living Tradition magazine.