The Magic Lantern’s first LP, the excellent A World In A Grain Of Sand, was released to much acclaim in 2011. Whilst clearly a collaborative body of work – the band were a five-piece back then – it was very much guided by the hand of front-man, singer and guitarist Jamie Doe. Since then the Australian-born Doe has dissolved the band to focus on more personal and altogether more introspective material. The result is Love Of Too Much Living, a set of astute, lyrical and sophisticated songs delivered primarily on softly-plucked guitar and melancholy piano.
Let’s get something straight right away: although the majority of the songs on this record are reflective, acoustic and very self-aware, this is a far cry from the sub-David Gray troubadours you’re likely to hear in Starbucks or on adverts for iPhones. Where many singer-songwriters will attempt to squeeze emotion out of a lyric using a familiar (and clichéd) vocal trick or melodic trope, Doe draws on an extensive range of influences to approach well-worn themes from fresh and exciting angles. Songs like No One’s Fault, for example, appear to take as much from African music as from traditional Anglo-American pop or folk. In a post-Paul Simon world, this tactic in itself could become corny, but Doe never lets that happen, using his unique vocal phrasing to turn the song into something new. When, two thirds of the way through the track, he sings ‘I’ll wash my face and start again,’ we get a glimpse of how Jeff Buckley might have sounded had he lived to grow less abrasive.
Lyrically, Doe is concerned with presenting simple ideas in intelligent ways. ‘Why can’t we all get along, as simple as that sounds?’ he enquires in the piano-led Air At The Top, discussing life’s Pyrrhic victories before coming to a conclusion full of optimism, while on the a cappella 28 Years Old he documents a transitional phase of his life with unabashed honesty, the openness of the sentiment made all the clearer by the lack of instrumentation. The acoustic instrumental Alice is an arresting counterpoint, showcasing Doe’s talent for appropriating and melding musical styles, in this case folk and classical guitar. The playing on songs like Winter is altogether simpler, giving Doe the opportunity to indulge in those Buckleyesque vocal flights, and on the jumpy, restless Scant Piece Of Mind guitar and piano come together for the first time as the song climbs and spirals.
Love Of Too Much Living takes its title from poem by Victorian decadent Algernon Swinburne, who later became a noted critic and pillar of respectability. It is a wise choice for an album whose songs sit astride the fathomless land between maturity and naivety, and whose lyrics describe that land with profound directness.
Review by: Thomas Blake
Also click here to watch Somewhere Safe To Sea a short film which premiered on FRUK this week about the life and times of Jamie Doe.
Out Now via Smugglers Records
24/10 – Grain Barge, Bristol *
25/10 – The Goods Shed, Stroud *
26/10 – The Lexington, London *
27/10 – Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich *
28/10 – Portland Arms, Cambridge *
29/10 – LAMP, Leamington Spa *
30/10 – Railway, Winchester *
31/10 – UCLU Folk Society, London
12/11 – The Green Note, London
19/11 – Bath Gallery, Bath
05/12 – House Show, Fife
10/12 – The Carlton Cinema, Westgate ^
11/12 – The Lighthouse, Deal ^
13/12 – Irregular Folk, Oxford
^with Alabaster DePlume
*with Cocos Lovers & Hot Feet