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JEZ LOWE - Heads Up

JEZ LOWE - Heads Up
Tantobie Records TTRCD112

A continual stream of awards and nominations attests to Jez’s status as one of the nation’s finest living songwriters. And so any compilation of his work will of necessity prove highly selective; this one unashamedly proclaims as its contents “18 essential Jez Lowe songs”. Few could quibble with the selection, for the vast majority of the inclusions would, I suspect, be on any “hit-list” compiled by a Jez Lowe fan – and although the hard-core aficionado would doubtless have chosen differently for a handful of titles, no criticism of the final tracklist of Heads Up can be implied by that situation.

Ever since Jez’s very first album, a little more than a quarter of a century ago, his output has been both staggering in its consistency and staggeringly varied in tone and subject matter. Although Jez initially made limited forays into the indigenous north-east traditions that inspired his writing, Heads Up naturally concentrates on his proven songwriting skills and proudly displays many of his most popular and most-requested creations. There’s evidence of all the diverse strands and moods of his writing, from the catchy, jaunty, cheeky (You Can’t Take It With You, High Part Of The Town and Back In Durham Gaol) to the pertinent reactions to declining industries (These Coal Town Days, A Small Coal Song, Black Diamonds); from the canny commentary of Old Bones (here given in a splendid new recording) to the poignant Last Of The Widows and The Bergen, and the sharply-realised storytelling of Greek Lightning and London Danny. Some of the more recent ventures with which Jez has become involved are represented by We’ll Hunt Him Down (The Darwin Song Project), My Blood (in this version, a duet with Vin Garbutt), and the hilarious tale of The Simian Son (the only track to suffer from a degree too much “monkey business” in terms of musical arrangement, in my opinion).

Most of the tracks feature Jez in fruitful consort with Bad Pennies members past and present, the current winning team of Kate Bramley and David De La Haye also being well represented. As regards the sources for the tracks on this compilation, several of them are drawn directly from the original album recordings (some of which are no longer available), whereas three songs appear in the form of hitherto unavailable live or alternate versions, which will appease the diehard collector; date-wise, these span a number of years (Dover, Delaware comes from 2005, while London Danny was recorded for Australian radio almost a decade after the song had appeared on 1988’s Bad Penny album).

Heads Up is a brilliant sampler and a very decent listening sequence, but comes with a caveat that it will have a distinctly “more-ish” effect, for (risking an awful pun) it might best be described as a mere tip-of-the-icebergen…

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 94 of The Living Tradition magazine.