Many thanks to Brian R. Banks for his excellent – and highly detailed – review of “An Original Thought” in the latest issue of “Caught In The Act”.
Greatly appreciated, Brian!
Greatly appreciated, Brian!
“An Original Thought”
Cherry Red BEAUAOT1 – DL-only – (47:06)
By Brian R. Banks
Hot off the ‘press’ - digital that is, as a download from Cherry Red’s continuing series of Beau’s latest music - that’s also aglow from his most intense period of creativity, not excluding his great Dandelion label days. Thirteen songs of wit and whimsy, thoughts of now and history, continue a trademark sound since a debut single in the summer at ’69 shot to number one...in the Lebanon. Clearly a wide taste absent from home pop-pickers: it was about the 1917 Russian Revolution! And that is one at the qualities of this singer-songwriter: a never-ending-spur to further study of subjects that broadens listening pleasure and horizons within beautiful soundscapes, the latter further explored on his recent Simfonica recordings of electronica (Fruits de Mer Records).
His music is never merely local, like Americana, or clingingly personal like the dissection of relationships, nor is it dated like the content of some musical genres. From his debut on, there is an abiding sense of familiarity, as if hearing again a choir in which we had once sung. As the saying goes, it is a broad church of universal subjects: tragic, amusing, quirks of fate, the state of things generally now and seemingly near future. Erudite, literate (Ringo Starr’s letter to a girl in 1961 ‘I don’t no wether [double sic...) ain’t part of our subject) and increasingly political recent releases are non-doctrinal: the individual is paramount, like for his contemporary folkster Mick Softley. There’s no dissonance: lyrics cut like a diamond, in sharper focus perhaps nowadays while always relevant.The album appropriately opens with ‘An Original Thought,’ about a trial of one charged with that indictment, the parallel-in-literature George Bernard Shaw being name-checked. The barb about the detainee is: could he really have an original though, is it possible when we think of the history of thinking?! This collocates with Everything’s Possible (‘under the sun, once it’s been done’) and ‘The Patriot,’ considering – on midsummers eve! — how Machiavelli (in fact Machiavellianism) now permeates politics. Some would like to apply for ‘compassionate leave’ from the imposed creeds and activities harnessing patriotism for their own ends. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ Beau says in his sleeve-notes, ‘I’m no pacifist, it’s just that I like to know when and how I’m being manipulated....’ Cherry Red has posted this on Youtube with lyrics; their showing of flags with one made into a paper plane may be too subtle for some in agreement with the expressed opinions. Beau sees birth-place as accidental, and whether one prefers to ascribe fate or destiny, the actuality is still without our choosing.
Tempo is upped to strong strumming, reminiscent of his debut single, on ‘The Promised Land’ about the transportation and baggage of focus groups, including the current fad of trivia that drives social media. This song is also now streamed on the video channel, by Dianelos Palaiorokas; also in Greece, Marmalade Radio was the first station to premiere the album with interest shown on France radio and no doubt Holland soon, where the singer has a good following. Also newly uploaded is ‘Where Is Your Gun, My Son,’ soundboard live from a concert at Lichfield in 2012. Hypnotic, it conjures here Dylan’s unheralded classic protest song ‘John Brown.’
His latest excursion into history is about the Longhope lifeboat disaster, which he first thought of telling back in the late winter of 1969. The Siberian ship Irene (perhaps Beau was also struck by the name due to his early influence from Lead Belly’s music?) on its Way from Granton to Norway sent an SOS off South Ronaldsay, east of Orkney during a force 9 gale and waves up to 100 feet high. Fortunately it run aground on the aptly-named Grimness and the 17-man crew rescued. But the coastguard boat TGB of Longhope went awry in the storm, and though another lifeboat sent for it, was not seen until spotted in the afternoon upturned after ‘maelstrom conditions’ according to the official record. Its coxswain was still at the helm and all crew dead, one never found. This is a moving homage to a powerful legacy that still endures.
The cheesier side of showbiz features on two tracks. ‘The Thinking Of God’ targets televangelists who bellow, like nationalists, that God is on their side, the astounding arrogance that they know God’s thought, which reminds me of Chris Hitchens’ interviews against that wrong-headedness. ‘The Trotter Sisters’ is an amusingly light-hearted tale about showbiz comebacks, be it cinema, music or theatre that herald (often shaky) returns as it once did with social activists, Victorian mediums and silent-film ‘stars’. The name, I’m reliably informed, refers to Mrs Midgley’s dancing feet! Family, this time distant, is referenced in ‘Mary Huddleston,’ an intrepid great-aunt who took a single non-return ticket in bygone times for a more praiseworthy reason than what motivates today’s market for the moon and Mars.
The frantic ‘A Peace That’s Bad’ says wise things about conflict, while the modern bi-polar world of urban isolation is talked about in ‘Something Of A Loner,’ a sad life and demise. I’d hazard an unprofessional guess that perhaps creativity is the only escape or survival aid. ‘Skeletons Dance’ (without the apostrophe) discusses those exposed by the very-English tabloid press, based on a skeleton in the cupboard idiom (the Slavic equivalent is a dead body!). If you seek re-election, Beau sings of the politician, or have an erection then keep it quiet and don’t let the skeletons dance! A returned-to theme is surveillance, unforeseen by Orwell (or even Hitler) regarding its pernicious levels that ‘Little By Little’ encroach and remove personal freedom ‘shard by shard’. We all need to be alert is the good advice. The album ends with ‘Hope,’ based on the German proverb ‘Hope is the last to die’, a short but haunting tail-piece that reminds of the format of his ﬁrst albums.
This is a welcome birthday celebration that album-by-album shows a conﬁdent, often well-aimed focus in guitar and word, always provoking, often poignant, never dull. There is no use of capo, surprisingly regarding the different registers of voice and big Harmony 12-string that ‘rings out better without, as frankly do most guitars’, certainly the effect and memory long after playing. No foot-pedal effects either, all takes are ‘dry’ and natural; some echo and reverb were applied sparingly during mix-down.
Troubadours in history sang not only of love but ironical satire of events and figures — Beau leans more toward the latter content of Envig and Sirventes (as a citizen equivalent of the paid solder who serves) than Albe or Maldit for which troubadours are usually associated with in the popular imagination. If you see music and words as a valid ongoing tradition of discourse about the world we live in, and the world we would like to be in, then the albums of Beau are craft-made for you and yours.
Brian R. Banks