Jez Lowe & the Bad Pennies,
(Tantobie, 2004)

Jez Lowe is one of the best and most prolific of songwriters and performers on the scene in Britain today. His music has a combination of social conscience, humour and tradition, as is evidenced here on Doolally.

The opening song on this album, "You & Your Golden Vanity," recalls an old superstition in the northeast of England about how to amass wealth. The unusually titled "Donnini Doolally" actually recalls the life of the youngest soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War II. He was a young man of Italian extraction who appears to have been high-spirited from an early age.

Coal dust is in the veins of this writer/singer and he constantly returns to the coalmines of the region, the effects of their closure and their dangers when open. He recalls a visit by Queen Elizabeth to a spot where some of the worst violence of the Miner's Strike in 1984 took place on a track called "Regina Inside." The sweet-voiced Kate Bramley takes vocals on the song.

"Vikings" is a fun song that wonders how things would go if the Norsemen returned to the scene of their pillage a millennium ago.

Lowe constantly writes of life and truth. He based the track "The Fan Dancer's Daughter" on a tale told to him by one such daughter. He does not confine himself to England; "Calico" was written following a visit to the California site.

Folk music is the most potent manner of commenting on society. In a hundred years people will sing "Keep Them Bairns Away," which reflects our problems in dealing with child abuse. Every so often rumour and innuendo point the finger at an innocent person. Do we accept these mistakes as the price to pay to keep the children safe?

"Gull's Eye" recalls days when the less well-off scoured the shoreline to pick up waste coal, their only source of affordable fuel living beside coalmines. The a cappella performance gives it a beautiful but haunted feel. The delivery may sound upbeat on "Bloodstained," but the message is different. It reminds us that our Earth is far from clean and through our actions is stained with blood.

A word of warning, do not rush to switch off the CD as you reach the end of the lyrics on "Bloodstained." It only lasts 4:53 but there is a beautiful bonus of almost two minutes of instrumental heaven directly after it -- unaccredited.

If you want an album that is a pleasure to hear but also has a spine of steel, get hold of this CD. The songs are entertaining but give more than a passing attention to the lyrics and hear the history of our Earth and maybe consider trying to change it.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 18 September 2004