Seventh album from folk troubadour reflects on the past.
Jason McNiff’s seventh album was recorded at his home studio in the Summer and Autumn of 2020, and there’s a sense that the enforced home-time led to reflection on a more travelling past. Born in Bradford, living in London for sometime and now relocated to the South Coast, Jason McNiff’s journey has been less linear than that summary might imply, taking in sojourns in Italy. Musically ‘Dust of Yesterday‘ continues to show McNiff in thrall to the British folk-boom guitar greats – such as Jansch, Renbourn, Graham and Jones – and if one must be in thrall to anyone then there are worse choices than the giants of British Bohemian finger-picking. Lyrically ‘Dust of Yesterday‘ could be said to be nostalgic, there are many references to lost abodes, old friends, parted lovers, but these are also linked to a sense of storytelling – as if Jason McNiff is recounting the things that made him who he is and who shaped the “I” that exists now.
Opener ‘For the First Time‘ touches on these themes as McNiff sings of revisiting somewhere he used to live “twenty years this was my town it was the place that I’d chosen” and finding himself a stranger. Feeling out of place brings forth bittersweet memories “I never knew this place, while I lived here, like I never saw your face until you disappeared, and I saw what I loved for the last time.” Later in the album ‘Tom‘ revisits a friendship suddenly cut short, going from a particular closeness “it’s true I knew him best, we used to play chess. talk about life, life and women” to him just not being there “I never saw Tom again, don’t know what happened to my friend.” There’s a sense of profound loss of connection in this shuffling song as McNiff admits “now I’ve got a wife and a kid – I’m keeping it hid.”
Some of the rhyming on the title song recalls Al Stewart particularly “there we were like birds on a wire, time was a friend and so was desire” and the confessional aside “now I’ll tell you the truth – I never got over it, those days of you.” And the paradoxical “got plans for the future but bigger plans for the past.” The blend of McNiff’s electric guitar and Basia Bartz’s violin is particularly effective. Whilst ‘A Load Along‘ takes a light and somewhat whimsical view of youth’s rebellions – skipping the fare on a train, being in a band with a guitarist who “was really seeing double“, it’s ‘Try for the Sky‘ that brings in some shadows as McNiff faces up to demons of sorrow and regret with “If I think about her eyes, honey I apologise, you’ve got beautiful eyes” telling a whole story in a couple of lines.
An album so touched with thoughts of the past can’t help but send the listener off along similar tracks of their own. That there’s a balm in here as well – that now is as important as then – is all to the good.