Knowingly channeling Cohen’s Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye on reflective opening lost love number When You Needed Me,Reg Meuross’ 11th album marks a return to the one man and a guitar format that initially inspired him and which is the template for his live shows. Having had his 1944 Martin guitar lovingly restored by master craftsman Stuart Palmer in San Jose, Meuross took himself off to London where, over the course of two days, he recorded the songs that make up this collection, straight to the mic, with longtime associate Roy Dodds behind the desk.
The opening track from December sets the pervasive musical and lyrical mood and, along with Cohen, you’ll hear such acknowledged influences as Paul Simon and Bob Dylan in the writing and delivery as the album unfolds. A simple intimate lost love song I Want You (“I want to tell you that I love you, but you don’t want to listen”) is next up, the theme extended through allegory of a doomed castaway (“does he long for the arms of a runaway lover or cannot accept that a great love is over?) in the slow shanty sway of Man In A Boat (which prompts a comparison with the young Harvey Andrews).
There’s a shift of perspective for the circling chords of the poignant The Day She Never Cried, a list of emotional highs and lows that could be seen as either finally overcoming the heartache or making the final surrender to escape love’s loss. Then it’s back to the first person for Let Me Forget, in which the protagonist automatically assumes the relationship will fail, and that life is what happens while you wait for it to do so.
Harmonica enters the mix for Smarter Than Me, a song that underscores those frequent Townes Van Zandt comparisons as he muses on his shortcomings and disappointments (“all my dreams left in a boat that sank before it left the docks”), but comes with a nice twist in that accepting failure seems to be better than “friends plagued with ambition and poisoned by success.”
One of my favourite tracks, The Night is the most obvious nod to Dylan, a series of snapshots of restlessness and disconnections, strum giving way to fingerpicking for The Hands Of A Woman, a song that begins on an upbeat note (“the hands of a woman telling me everything will work out fine”), surrendering to love only to gradually give way to hurt and loss (“You forget about me and the love that slips through your hands”).
In My Heart also tells of romantic disappointment, except here there is no bitterness, no acrimony, just sweet memories of “The times we shared the way I cared. The tender way you cared for me.”
In keeping with the title, the album ends with the year’s first reference to the festive season, Christmas Song, though, also in keeping with the prevailing mood, this isn’t one full of comfort, joy and glad tiding. Rather, in its images of cardboard boxes and soup vans, it’s about those fallen on hard times, a song veined with wearied regret and a warning not to make the same mistakes as the singer as it ends with the lines “Hold on to your sweetheart buy her ribbons. Strong may your children grow. Don’t ever be lonely take her dancing. Spare me some change before you go.” Imagine John Prine’s Hello In There crossed with REM’s Losing My Religion. It’s that good. As is everything here.
Review by: Mike Davies
December is Out Now
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Photo Credit: Peter James Millson