I have been well and truly spoilt this year. Courtesy of Folk Radio, I’ve been introduced to more new artists in the space of twelve months than I had in the ten years previous, and a gloriously diverse bunch they’ve been too. Now, as the year begins to stretch its neck for the finishing tape, here comes another with a total disregard for the whip and reckoning on ruining a few ‘best of’ lists as it gallops towards success. Jason Mcniff’s fifth studio album is a bounteous mix of the finest roots music has to offer. At turns traditional and modern, a glut of influences carefully managed into a definable, and individual, shape, God Knows.. bears Mcniff’s mantle as Bradford’s Dylan (Highway M606 anyone?) lightly and with considerable disdain for the pigeon-holing; this is a sure-footed, experienced songwriter going for broke.
The Picture eases us in gently, guitar led and relaxed but ending on a poignant ‘Same as yesterday’ refrain echoed in the backing vocals. God Knows Why We Dream is a fast shuffle highlighting Barbara Bartz’s fiddle, which twists and turns with studied alacrity through the majority of the album tracks, adding weight and fizz in equal measure. Thanks Leonard (Cohen) returns to delicate finger-picking.
These first three songs act as a suitable aperitif to the main course, the album bursting into another gear entirely with A Different Word. Various layers are at work here, not least the beautiful colliery band brass notes and acapella lines that accent a melody it’s very difficult to shake. Gilmour-esque sonics on the outro solo do much to ice a cake that ups the ante and provides the first of a run of songs forming the backbone of the album. A Different Word is almost worth the admission price alone, but is followed by Green, the closest to a straight-ahead pop song , with a solid 4/4 beat and plucked solo in a song that would have graced a Hothouse Flowers record circa People or Home. Game Over also has an inventive arrangement and there can’t be many songs with the word snicket in the lyric. If I remember rightly, this is the song Mcniff referred to at the Borderline as having one too many arcane references to Lord of The Rings and if you’re as much of an anorak as I am, you’ll pick a few out; you can take the boy out of Bradford…
Before I Lose You slows the pace to funereal, the fiddle and strings almost orchestral in their movement, and then the horse is bolting again for a strange tale of a small Norfolk village and relationships, Brockdish. Brockdish suffers a little from whimsy (as does closer Bonsai Tree, though neither should be ignored), and rounds off a very solid, very engaging core.
Through it all, Mcniff’s vapour of a voice puts me in mind more of Gram Parsons or Mark Olson than Mr. Zimmerman. It’s a beautiful instrument that occasionally feels too delicate for the robust acoustics of wood and string that surround it but is always to the fore, seeping into your mind like smoke under a door. It’s another individual element of many that make The Lone Malones and God Knows Why We Dream Jason Mcniff’s strongest outing yet. 2014, eh, who knew?
Review by: Paul Woodgate
God Knows Why We Dream is Out Now
Order via: www.jasonmcniffandthelonemalones.com