Jez Lowe & the Bad Pennies,
The Parish Notices
(Green Linnet, 1998)

A montage of life in the north of England -- the good, the bad, the funny, the sad -- comprises The Parish Notices, the latest release from Jez Lowe & the Bad Pennies.

A keen social observer with the remarkable ability to transform everyday vignettes into incisive song, Lowe also possesses the uncanny talent of synergistically uniting his lyrics with just the right music. His timely and opportune employment of the cittern, mandolin, dulcimer, banjo, fiddle, hurdy-gurdy, melodeon and accordion on various cuts enthusiastically resonate with his lyrics, enhancing his songs' effectiveness.

He is an effectual user of colloquialisms. Witness the song titles "Propping," "Sod All" and "Hand Away, Gan On," which help transport the listener to the land(s) in which he sets his songs. Lowe presents the trials and tribulations of besotted souls, successful emigrants who return to a reception of scorn and envy, lost and bewildered unsuccessful emigrants, single parenthood, unemployment, and the effect of the appearance of AIDS in a small English village, among other topics.

"Sod All" is a melancholy tune about falling under the spell of a silver-tongued devil and then being forsaken after a resulting pregnancy. The mother plaintively strikes out at the world, telling her son:

Sod all their tongues with their rights and their wrongs
Sod all their speeches of unmarried leeches
There's sod all in handouts of welfare-state pay
And you've been a right little sod all day...."

Judy Dinning effectively trades vocals with Lowe on this cut.

Using the cittern, whistle and hurdy-gurdy effectively on "Spitting Cousins," Lowe tells the tale of a visiting Australian cousin returning to the north of England to a bitter reception. As the resentful relative, he sings:

"There's been one or two changes since you went away
We got colour television, but real life turned grey...."

The true story depicted in "The Parish Notices" is the tale of the arrival of a lesbian couple in a quaint English village. Tongues start clucking as:

"They (the townspeople) have their own lives to live and let live
And their own business to mind
Their cards are played close to the heart
But when apples are spilled from the cart
The parish notices...."

However, when one of the women subsequently contracts AIDS and dies:

"And one alone in her grief still remained
To hear no comforting sound
Just gather your goods and be gone
And take your damn plague from this town
She laughed with her back to the ropes
And she spat on their street and she hopes
The parish notices."

The power and cohesiveness of Lowe's writing is nowhere more apparent than in this song. The story and the vivid images he presents in just 27 lines of verse are remarkable.

Other strong compositions on this CD include the bouncy "Propping," the galloping "The Limping Drinker's Polka," "Go Away Joe" and the cheerful "Idle Time."

Lowe is an underrated songwriter and performer. Neither flashy nor bombastic, his marriage of music and words often offers delicate shadings, nuances on life as he sees it. Because of this, this is not a bleak or caustic release, despite the subject matter. He gets his point across without assaulting the listener.

He is ably assisted here by Billy Surgeoner on fiddle, keyboards, whistle, saxophone, percussion and vocals; Jez Luton on double bass, electric stand-up bass, keyboards, guitar and vocals; and Judy Dinning on vocals, guitar, keyboards and percussion; and special guests Jake Walton on hurdy-gurdy and Rob Kay on melodeon and accordion.

[ by Kevin McCarthy ]



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