JEZ LOWE and THE BAD PENNIES - Tenterhooks
Tantobie Records TTRCD106

It is a rare experience to listen to a CD and enjoy every track, but I had that experience with ‘Tenterhooks’. Jez Lowe is of course an outstanding singer and songwriter, and The Bad Pennies, excellent musicians in their own right, are much more than just a backing group, adding their own individual touches to the album, with the voice of Bev Sanders providing a contrast to Jez’s own singing.

Jez Lowe is an international performer but his songs remain firmly rooted in his native north-east. Someone once made the grudging comment, “Jez Lowe writes northern songs for southerners”, but what he actually does is write northern songs set in the north-east but with themes that can be appreciated by audiences all over the world. The album deals with unemployment (‘Sweep Horizons Clean’), love (‘The Indian Lass’), marriage (‘Alibi child’), a talking dog with a serious message (‘Aloysius’), and the title track - about the local dare devil and his sad downfall. The album comes to a beautiful and unusual end with a group of traditional north-east songs including the haunting ‘Felton Lonnen’.

The sleeve notes remind us that this album was first released in 1995 and suggest that Jez’s horizons may have broadened since then. Maybe this is an inevitable process, but I can’t see him completely abandoning the north-east – the source and inspiration of his song-writing.

In praising this album, I must also mention the beautiful accompanying illustrations by local artist Tom McGuiness, which blend perfectly with the songs.

I have said that the album comes to an end, but then, for reasons which are not clear, we get six bonus tracks from a previous album – ‘Banners’. The songs are good, but they are clearly part of another project – the celebration of the end of the Durham coalfield. Would it not have been possible to re-release the whole album instead of tacking it on to Tenterhooks?

Howard Baker

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This album was reviewed in Issue 65 of The Living Tradition magazine.