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MICK BLAKE - Oblivious

MICK BLAKE - Oblivious
Private Label

In these pages, I recently reviewed a very sound album by Christy Moore. In my review, I praised its title song, and the writer of that song: Mick Blake.

And after that issue of TLT hit the newsstands, I got three letters suggesting that I had been positively hyperbolic in my praise of Mr Blake: and one of my correspondents suggested that maybe I was going slightly gaga in my old age.

Well, bless my soul...would you believe it...but the long awaited debut album from Mick Blake has just arrived on my desk for review. I did not solicit it from the editor, nor have I met Mr Blake in my life. (I need to tell you that, to prepare the ground for what I am going to say next.)

And the bombshell is this: my so-called hyperbolic praise, was if anything, far too understated...!! The best way for me to explain just exactly how much, is to tell you that next year will mark a quarter of a century since I submitted my first reviews to The Living Tradition magazine. And I have to say that hand on heart, in all those years, I have never encountered a greater debut album than this.

The man is clearly quite extraordinary, and I could easily write ten thousand words on this album, and still leave a lot unsaid. But space limitations mean that I cannot be an ersatz Professor Christopher Ricks doing one of his scintillating analyses of Bob Dylan here: though that said, these songs would warrant going under just such a magnifying glass. For Mick Blake’s songs are beautifully crafted, every word paying their rent in every line, some staggeringly wonderful and apposite choices of rhyming words (especially internal rhymes), and all with strong messages that don’t need re-sending via the Western Union (they hit home first time alright).

Add to all this, the songs are sublimely well delivered in Mick’s pleasant light tenor voice. But even better is - and I quote from the liner notes - “All arrangements, vocals, harmonies, pianos, guitars, midi strings and horns, bass, drums, accordion, concertina – Mick Blake”.

When I read that, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. The quality of the instrumental work is top notch: the piano in particular. But Mick being responsible for all that list? Apparently, yes indeed. Golly, if ever a fellow can call himself a multi-instrumentalist, then ‘tis surely he.

And he is not mean with it. He gives us a generous 51:42 running time with this album: ten long songs that start with the dynamite of the title song Oblivious and end with the TNT of Leitrim (a brief history). He is a veritable Eoin Morgan, for every song knocks you for six.

Now, I am no expert on Irish history, and so several of the stories behind the songs were new to me. And it could well be that the facts were sometimes a bit more nuanced than Mr Blake portrays them in the songs. After all, he sees things through the prism of a boyhood in Donegal and adulthood in Co Leitrim: I see things through my background growing up in the Rhondda Valley. That said, his songs come across to me as suspiciously like the unadulterated Truth...’cept, like I say, there are a lot more than Harlan Howard’s famous three chords to them (!!). You see, what makes me convinced that this guy is not even remotely anti Brit, despite rightly loathing some of Britain’s unspeakable behaviour in history, is the way he so cleverly compares the old injustices with the new, and turns his guns on to the current Irish establishment and the corruption endemic there. Proof to me that there goes a fair-minded man.

This ability to compare events, is as much a hallmark of his songs, as his ability to brilliantly compress complex thoughts into limpid short lines. Never more successful here than in his Another Child Another War, the song of his which most moved me. It starts off being ostensibly about a little girl in Amsterdam in 1944 (Anne Frank), then switches without any grating of the gear box to 70 years later and the wicked Israeli assault on helpless Palestinian children in Gaza.

The songs bring to mind different influences. I haven’t a clue whether Mick is steeped in the songs of Randy Newman, but I would be surprised if he was not. And there is occasionally something of a Tom Waits in his delivery (albeit a Waits with a Dolby System fitted in his throat). And his powerful indictment of his native country lacking any moral core in its domestic and foreign policies - The Giveaway – sees him playing some delightful, accomplished jazz piano, which would stand comparison with the best you hear at Ronnie Scott’s.

Okay, I am coming to the end of my set word limit. In an effort to not make this review seem like an exercise in sycophancy, let me at least try to even things up a bit and find some faults.

Not easy. I guess I find some of his vowel sounds are a bit mid-Atlantic: but if his speaking voice is also that way, then he is excused. But I doubt it is. So, if the great Christy Moore can sing in the same accent with which he speaks, then so can Mick. Thankfully he is a long way from Adele and the late Amy Winehouse - who both chose to sing in American rather than their London accents - but he needs to halt the slide.

And then there are the CD liner notes. Oh dear! All the wonderful trouble he went to masterminding the arrangements and overdubs: yet seemingly rushed his booklet off to the printers without properly proofreading it for typos. Simple errors like “widom” (for wisdom); “When the rich man’s famine was the poor man’s feast” (sic); accordian (sic). I have a great idea Mr Blake: send me the liner notes for your next CD, so as I can proof-read them for you.

That there will be a second album, is beyond a peradventure of a doubt. For a major artiste has arrived with this stunning debut album. But, by about “second album syndrome”...!! Mr Blake is going to encounter it, bigtime. For he has set the bar ridiculously high with this CD, which I predict will bring him international fame.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 119 of The Living Tradition magazine.