Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies – The Parish Notices – the Art Edition
CD review by Tony Smith
TN566-48 – $25
Tantobie Records re-issued this 1998 album with three bonus tracks.
Lowe plays guitar, cittern, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, dulcimer and piano and is the main vocalist.
The other Bad Pennies contribute vocals as well as a range of instruments.
Billy Sturgeoner plays violin, keyboards, piano, whistle, saxophone and percussion.
Jez Luton plays double bass, electric bass, guitar and keys.
Judy Dinning plays keyboards and percussion.
They are joined by special guests Jake Walton on hurdy-gurdy and Rob Kay on melodeon and accordion.
Opening track, ‘Glad Rags Again’ introduces a strong theme of looking to the past with an eye to the future which recurs in several of these songs.
‘Tom-Tom’ begun on a tour to Australia, muses about the reliability of old forms of communication: ‘bow down to the idol electric, cower in terror at the tick-box, now you know what only the Gods know but you’ll never do better than the tom-tom, you’ll never do better than the drum’.
Several songs concern the poverty trap.
Young men are ‘Propping’ up various walls – is a song inspired by old photographs of Lowe’s home town.
‘Sod all’ is likely an expression of the single mother: ‘there’s sod all handouts of welfare state pay, and you’ve been a right little sod all day’.
‘Idle Time’ is a lament for the temporarily out of work, because the situation often becomes permanent: ‘you’ve got to hand it to the devil and hope he’ll find work for you to do’.
‘Had away gan on’ is a statement of disbelief in north east dialect.
You can miss the ready recognition of locals with whom you share language and cultural context: ‘Why man what ya deein’.
‘The Parish Notices’ or the community comments is a warning that gossip can undermine relationships.
The fear that people might notice stops many from finding happiness.
Other tracks include ‘Spitting cousins’, ‘The limping drinker’s polka’, ‘Spares or repair’, ‘Go away Joe’ and another nostalgic song, ‘If I had Another Penny’.
There are three bonus tracks which were recorded earlier but shelved: ‘Easy Town’ (inspired by the name of Lowe’s town), ‘A Lass to Want Me’ (taking up an autistic man’s wish) and ‘Slack Water Sea’ (about the waters off Tyneside recovering after miners stopped dumping coal into the ocean).
The cover art is by Wolfgang Wolff 1909-94 who fled Hitler’s Europe only to be interned as an enemy alien by the French in Tahiti.
His wife smuggled art supplies in and paintings out in their baby’s clothing!
This album is heavily influenced by trips to Australia and New Zealand.
It is to Jez Lowe’s usual high standard.
You cannot imagine Lowe ever having to struggle to fit lyrics, melody and rhythm together.
Not that he would ever write himself into a difficult corner, but this CD demonstrates yet again how easy and natural he and his collaborators make it all seem.