Langa Langa is Norwich’s Jess Morgan’s third album and it deserves to be her breakthrough. Langa Langa’s fourteen gentle, unhurried songs showcase an exceptional songwriting talent that has already been championed by fRoots, BBC Radio DJ’s Steve Lamacq, Tom Robinson and of course, Folk Radio UK.
Morgan’s sound is a fusion of traditional British Folk, American Folk and more contemporary Americana somewhere between Karine Polwart and Laura Cantrell.
Silver Dagger falls firmly into the traditional category, a well known American Folk Ballad, on which Morgan’s delicate voice and picked guitar offer the perfect vehicle for expressing the song’s melancholy message of a suitor rejected by a woman who has been warned off love by her mother. Adam and Genevieve is another tale of regret and disappointment. The addition of a string section to accompany vocals and guitar adds a welcome extra layer of texture.
Lone Cashier, on the other hand, brings the Americana influences to the fore, with a rolling, country-style guitar line accompanying a story of an armed robbery gone wrong. Like many of the songs on Langa Langa, this is a song about people confronting their inadequacies. The chorus sums up this theme: “Honey hold onto me/ I’m not everything a man should be/ But I would take good care of you.”
Movie Scene is a similarly Americana inspired song about learning to live with life’s shortcomings. Morgan has a special talent for summing up a wasted life in a couple of lines: “On the movie screen and in brochures for California/ But darling we are in a lay-by and waiting on a van.”
Another interesting feature of Morgan’s music, though, is not to be found in her lyrics but in her claw-hammer guitar playing. Morgan takes a style usually found in fast bluegrass songs and slows it down to create something truly special. She is at her best when this technique is brought to the fore. Freckles in the Sun, provides the most clear demonstration of this unique sound. With the guitar’s gentle rising and falling evoking a lazy warm summer’s afternoon.
Cavallier is the album’s highlight, a superbly crafted song about loss and regret. The narrator anticipates that her lover will regret the their affair and urges them to call it off before this happens: “You will age ungracefully and blame all your losses on me/ It’s best you get on your horse and be, cavalier.” Again, Morgan’s unique guitar style is the perfect compliment to this story, giving the impression of a slowed down, thoughtful approach to heartbreak.
Langa Langa is an album that everyone with a love for gentle Americana should listen to. More importantly, though, this marks the emergence of a singer with a unique style for whom big things should be expected. There’s an appealing timelessness to these songs that demonstrates Morgan’s willingness to stay true to her musical approach regardless of current musical fads. As Morgan sings in Modern World “Me I’m an old soul/ I don’t think I belong in your modern world.” Perhaps she is right; but the modern world is certainly richer for her presence.
Review by: Alfred Archer
13 – Calstock Arts centre | Cornwall
14 – Treyarnon Bay YHA | Padstow, Cornwall
21 – Beverley Festival | Yorkshire
29 – Jabberwocky | Douglas, Isle Of Man
30 – The Crescent Theatre (with Kim Lowings) | Birmingham, West Midlands
Langa Langa is out now