Reg Meuross – Songs About a Train
Hatsongs Records – 2 February 2018
In 2011, after commissioning by Stephen Jordan, the then Head Librarian at The Bodleian Music Library in Oxford, Reg Meuross released a signed, limited edition album The Dreamed And The Drowned. This followed a ‘cursory search down the back of a sofa’ which revealed a collection of songs that had been recorded between 2006 and 2011 but hadn’t made it as final selections on releases. It was, nevertheless, extremely well-received, not least by our esteemed editor, (reviewed here)
One can only assume that the sofa was larger than a two-seater, as now, some seven years later, a further 11 overlooked songs, this time dating from 2013-2017, are to be released, with a gesture of dedication to Stephen who died in 2015, as Songs About A Train.
Two advisories might be in order here. Firstly, as with The Dreamed And The Drowned, it should not be assumed that the tracks presented are in any way outtakes, rejections or sub-standard in any way, shape or form, they patently are not. It would, presumably, have been a simple task to present these songs as “new”, but integrity and honesty obviously sit well with this artist. This is an absolutely splendid album, regardless of the provenance of the content, and as Jordan so eloquently stated in regard to The Dreamed… ‘some songs are right books put on the wrong shelf’. Secondly, this CD is quite far-removed from the overtly political nature of his most recent release, Faraway People, where six of the ten tracks relate to protest or injustice of some kind. This does not lessen the impact of what is on offer, however, nor does it mean that there are not songs which provide vehicles to reflect Reg’s social conscience, rather, it merely reinforces what a prodigious talent the country has in Mr Meuross, and his ability to weave aural magic.
Whilst The Dreamed… featured many leading musicians, including Bethany Porter, Miranda Sykes, Sarah Allen, John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick and Simon Edwards, this release is much pared back, with only the aforementioned Rabbit Bundrick (keyboards) and Simon Edwards (bass), together with longstanding friend Roy Dodds (drums), who also engineered the CD, appearing, and then only on the first track, Letting Go, a song to my ears evoking sounds of the early 1970s, (Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance springs to mind), and one which merely confirms Nick Lowe‘s comment on Reg, ‘Reg tells it with soul’. The remaining 10 tracks are simply voice and guitar together with very occasional banjo and harmonica, very much as would be presented live in concert.
Now in his fifth decade as a performer, Reg has carefully honed his craft as a singer songwriter, a trade which he proudly views as ‘honourable, creative and traditional’. His ability to tell stories through song, be they historical, allegorical or related to the complexities of the human condition, and then weave this narrative with memorable, beautiful melodies is a skill that he mastered way back in his career. I would also compare his ability in this respect to the work of Harry Chapin, or, on a more parochial level, Harvey Andrews.
Two tracks, in particular, exemplify this. The story of St. Martin of Tours is told in Martin, wherein the eponymous hero, a Roman soldier of 18 years of age, used his sword to cut his cloak in two to give to a freezing beggar outside the gates of the city of Amiens. That evening he had a vision in which he saw Jesus wearing the same half-cloak that he had given away, (although another version of the story has the cloak restored as whole). As a result of this, he became a conscientious objector, rejecting wealth and dedicating himself to charity work, peace and the care of those in need. Of course, Reg’s take on the story is far removed from the traditional German St. Martin’s Day lantern songs, with lyrics that facilitate an emotional connection between the listener and Martin. When listening to the chorus, “I will wrap my coat around you, I will share with you my bread, you are safe and you’re protected” one is also given a good clue as to why Reg has been compared, vocally, to Paul Simon.
His proficiency in storytelling continues with The Angel Maker, the chilling tale of Amelia Dyer, a Victorian ‘baby farmer’, (the practice of adopting unwanted babies in exchange for money), who over a twenty year period became one of the most prolific serial killers in history. It is believed that she murdered up to 400 infants prior to being hanged in Newgate Prison in 1897. Unlike the vitriolic lyrics of the popular ballad inspired by this ‘Ogress of Reading’ as she became known, here, to subtle guitar and harmonica accompaniment, Reg poignantly asks ‘Angel maker – did you wrap them up warm?’… ‘Angel maker – did you rock her to sleep?’. The use of ‘Angel maker‘ as a simile for a practitioner of infanticide is sheer poetry in itself and further exemplifies the eloquence of his writing.
There can be little doubt that Reg is an exceptional talent, other songs on this release both captivate, and at times possibly comfort the listener as they resonate with one’s own life experiences. Experiences such as breaking up, as on the melancholy I Understand, or a sense of loss on Letting Go – ‘I don’t know much my love but here’s one thing I know, If holding onto you was hard, It’s harder letting go.’
More upbeat contributions do appear, however, and if I was to make two predictions, one would be that Ring The Living Bell will make many Christmas/Festive Period play-lists in 10 months time and that The World Being The World will become a crowd favourite, with audiences lustily joining in with its catchy, rousing chorus. I also seem to recall that the title track, Songs About A Train went down extremely well at The Great British Folk Festival in December.
This release confirms that Reg is, unequivocally, quite simply one of the finest singer-songwriters of our, or any other, times. As with the greatest artists of any media, after having experienced their work he leaves you with memories, memories that, in the words of Stephen Jordan, are ‘released into your musical world to haunt you for years to come’.
Throughout the first half of 2018, Reg will be touring this album with Faraway People on the cunningly titled Two Albums Tour, I strongly urge you to get along and both enjoy and become emotionally engaged in the music he has on offer.
Songs About a Train is released today (2nd February), and is only available from gigs or directly from Reg’s website in a Limited Edition of 1000 numbered and signed copies.