A varied collection of strong songs that repays repeated plays.
After being involved with Liverpool bands The Persuaders and Come in Tokio in the 80s, John Jenkins reappeared in 2015. He says of the shift from the post-punk of his previous bands to his current work; “The songs continued to come, but I did nothing with them. I’ve always been a fan of great songs and my listening led my writing closer to the songs of roots and country”. As with nearly all the albums we have heard this year ‘If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love’ is the product of the isolation of Lockdown. The process has been kind to many songwriters, including Jenkins.
Jenkins lists influences as coming from John Prine to The Beatles, and Nanci Griffith to Bruce Springsteen. You can hear The Boss and Prine in his music, but not much Beatles early on. ‘Strangers On A Train’, the album’s best ballad could have been a Ralph McTell or Michael Chapman song quite easily, on the quality of the songwriting alone. Opening song ’A Stranger to Your Heart’ starts as a John Martyn style ballad, but morphs quickly into a hard-rocking guitar solo. One of the features of the album are Amy Chalmers’ string arrangements, particularly effective on ‘The Last Train from Baltimore’, and ‘Kathleen’, where they are matched with a Hammond organ that gives the minor key song a menacing feel straight off a Hollywood soundtrack. Dave Goldberg’s organ solo on this song is another instrumental highpoint. Handclaps and a gospel piano open ‘The Wrong Side of Sadness’. Despite the title this is an upbeat piece that is one of the highlights. Set in the middle of the album, it contrasts with ‘Strangers on A Train’, a duet with another Liverpool singer Alison Benson. This has a Brief Encounter style storyline, and trains are a recurring theme, cropping up again in ‘When the Morning Comes’ a light 70’s pop song that is yet another shift in style. The strings and harmonica that feature elsewhere help this fit into the overall album feel though. In fact, several songs in the second half of the album have that 70’s feel, and could easily have appeared on a Wings album, so that’s the Beatles connection then.
If there is a criticism of the album it is that stylistically it dots about rather, but when the songs are of such high quality that’s easy to forgive. It is easy to pick out songs rather than playing the album as a whole, which might be to miss some gems. This is a record that needs a few plays to get under your skin, but the song repays the effort as there is no weak tune here. Jenkins’ indie-rock roots show through particularly on closer ‘Desert Hearts’, a song good enough to make you press the repeat button.