Rab Noakes “The Treatment Tapes EP” (Neon Records 2017)

This is an outstanding and unforgettable record for two reasons: Firstly, it shines musically, and secondly, it tells the specific story of the discovery and treatment of Rab’s tonsillar cancer, diagnosed early in 2015. For both reasons the EP will appeal to most peoples’ inner sensitivity, drawing them in, in a particular and very personal way. This, musically and lyrically, is a short collection, but it takes you firmly along what could be a difficult path, where a “howling ghost” lurks, but ends up somehow in a place where a sense of hope survives, in whatever context you would allow it to blossom in.

Listening to the record countless times, one’s own reflection is engendered by the story told by Rab and his wife, Stephy. A lot of care has gone into the production and mixing of this album, by John Cavanagh, and beyond the basic vocal and guitar tracks look out for the booklet that comes with the CD. These are exemplary in the way they provide a background to the process of recording, the thoughts and feelings behind it all, and the positive, mutual acceptance of everything. That love and support given to Rab and Stephy shines through.

The lyrics of track 2 By The Day give you a glimpse of what cancer treatment can be like. This is a unique track, astonishing by its lack of sentimentality.  in Rab’s words: “The whole affair feels like /A sequence of dreams.” Another outstanding track is Mindful which Rab describes as a narrative of the low point of the process of cancer treatment, and the effects of  “radical treatment” on his part. The oboe is played beautifully here by Anne Rankin, accentuating how moving that moment is.

In I Always Will Rab is playing his new Gibson. This is a truly memorable love song, simple in its picking, devastating in its lyricism: “I loved you then, I love you still. / Like I say, I always will.” In his remarkable notes, Rab writes about guitars and mentions the 1928 L1 Blues Tribute, the guitar featured in the famous Robert Johnson photograph. Here, significantly, he dwells on love in terms of “celebration, reciprocation, joint activity and ever-deepening attachment.”

The last track, Water is My Friend is a statement used by Rab’s radiographer. This praise for hydration became a mantra for the healing process, and for life itself. In the song there is a reference to Bob Nolan’s “Cool Water.” This is Rab’s paean to what the whole process has taught him, and, coupled with that, one of his concluding thoughts is “People looking after me don’t get paid enough.”

As many people as possible ought to listen to this record, and learn its lessons.

Author: Dave Clarke

I have always loved Americana music, even before it had a name. I've been a teacher (secondary and tertiary) all my professional life.

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