Red Moon Joe “Time & Life” (DBS Recordings, 2017)

Here is up to date, relevant, British, Liverpool-produced Americana at its best. The songs are confiding, forceful sometimes. As it says in the first track, “Every page and chorus sweet refrain/ Filled with joy and some… filled with pain.” All you need really! Red Moon Joe are: Mark Wilkinson, who is the founder member (originally forming the band in 1985), producer, singer, electric and acoustic guitars; Steve Conway, pedal steel, dobro, acoustic guitar; David A Smith, bass; Dave Fitzpatrick, harmonica, banjo; and Paul Casey, drums.

The first track Slow Sun Wheeling is a worthy, get up and go, starter. With the band are Justin Currie, from Del Amitri, and Sadler Vaden who plays lead guitar for Jason Isbell. It’s an impeccable start. The sentiments expressed here, in the couplets and the playing, give the listener that mature, distinct evaluation of life; and with the use of Swinburne’s words for a title, with its affirmation of a whole world’s weariness, is confirmation of what is to come in the collection. A great start, and so the album develops. The second track, The High Lonesome with Cathryn Craig from Virginia, continues this promise. All the phrases and place names are there: the pills, heartaches, Bakersfield, Memphis, and “the platinum-blond waitress’s painted smiles.” Tup-tempompo, and finally, the quick conclusion just swoops you up!

One important and standout track that stresses an English political issue is Orgreave, written by David A. Smith.  Here is a reflective and angry reaction to the low point of the miners strike in the Eighties, epitomised by the South Yorkshire Police at the coking plant at Orgreave. David Smith’s words express the situation in the simplest of terms: “Dead Streets: 1984/ All the big wheels shut down.” Interestingly, after listening again to Dire Straits, Iron Hand you hear a reaction to the event, but here, with Red Moon Joe, you can hear the force and anger of contemporary feeling which has not been allowed its proper enquiry. The chorus, movingly, provides a clarion call: “You weren’t afraid to try? You never broke the line.”  The brass parts, which figure so proudly in this piece were arranged and recorded in Preston by Alan Gregson. So important, (and if you want to find out more you should read “The Scandal of Orgeave” by David Conn in The Guardian.)

Just two more tracks to mention here: Elvis, Townes and Hank  is another unforgettable track which should be listened to often. At the start, Mark Wilkinson’s guitar wails at you in a piece of advice to three major musical icons. The atmosphere created is added to, and backed up by Dave Fitzpatrick’s harmonica and Steve Conway’s pedal steel. The advice to Hank: to have stayed in Shreveport and avoided “riding the hayride all the way.” His story is set under a “tragic purple sky” where “The snake oil show kept rolling down that lost highway.” Here, amid the arrangement, is high quality, moving song writing. And don’t miss Hard Road for some serious guitar playing!

This is a CD you should not be without. Awarded a high mark after careful and repeated listening.

 

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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