A belated (recorded two years ago and then victim of label changes) follow-up to his 2008 solo debut, Sirens, this is a welcome return for the soft-voiced Leeds-born singer-songwriter and again tips the hat to such 60s American folk music influences as Bob Dylan, Eric Andersen and Jackson C. Frank as well as homegrown guitar pickers Davy Graham and Bert Jansch.
Having gained a First from Goldsmiths, where he took a music degree and was tutored in songwriting by Pete Astor, Greenwood’s pretty nifty when it comes to whistling up a catchy tune or an engaging lyric about everyday life. Something evidenced from the get go with Me and Molly, a scuffling, dusty voiced, country-flecked troubadour tune with a lengthy guitar outro (apparently written in response to a girlfriend’s dare to pen a song on the spot containing the name Molly), and The 88, the gently jogging, lyrically caustic (“you cheat and you lie and you seem to hate everyone and never a good turn done”) 2013 Record Store Day release that had Noel Gallagher frothing with praise.
Both those have been previously available (The 88 actually originally appeared, in a different version, as the B side of the 2008 Sirens single), but the rest, much steeped in sadness and related to relationship break-ups, is new material. Braced by an electric guitar bridge, the fingerpicked Don’t Go Out Anymore perhaps echoes “the violence round here” mentioned in the first track as he sings about people shutting themselves away from an increasingly intimidating world and the outraged friendly neighbour “kicking down your door”, asking “Is no one in love any more?”
On a similar theme, circling acoustic folk blues 24 And Counting, an open letter to an ex, starts by asking “does anyone come round at all?” and features the inspired image of having “given it up to the patron saint of falling on the floor”. But, while this may all seem steeped in negativity and disillusion, he remains a bruised optimist, adding “if they only knew what a tired saint could do, it wouldn’t be so cruel….Trumpets were born to be blown.”. He’s also upbeat (“meet me at the station and I’ll buy you a beer”) on the breezy, fingerpicked assignation arranging Meet My By The Bower.
If that’s evocative of early Donovan, things bulk up musically with Greenhound Blues as Neil Young enters the ring (Tonight’s The Night was Greenwood’s frame of reference for producer Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band), an influence that also extends to the guitar distortions of the dark-hued title track (it’s named for “a big fuck-off French dog” and again casts a dark shadow in the line “there’s no one in there where the love goes”) and The Lowest Love, which builds from a slow, simple, keening waltz about compassion for the “tired old men that scare themselves”and lovers that don’t deserve it to a gathering sonic storm finale, Young’s there too in the Needle and the Damage Done feel of the loping Hospital Corners and, Lou Rhodes on backing vocals, the wearied post-break up St Jude (“writing comes easy when you keep your own company”) with its piano, strings (courtesy Jennymay and Laura from The Elysian Quartet) and a deep and lonesome Twin Peaks guitar twang.
Switching back and forth between characters, former lovers, the album ends on a wry note with the acoustic guitar accompanied To Remember You Well, as the one notes how “he was a child amongst men….a legend in his own private hell”) and the other begs “Don’t lump me in with the rest”. No chance. He’s special.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now via Brown Leather Jacket Records
Order via Amazon