Jez Lowe & the Bad Pennies,
Tenterhooks (The Art Edition)
(Tantobie, 2005)

We are told that precious diamonds come from coal. This adage proves more than a little true when we hear this treasure of an album. Jez Lowe is one of the best singer-songwriters working on the scene today. His songs are many and varied but his roots are firmly in the coal-mining traditions of Great Britain -- and from that black gold comes this gem.

Tantobie Records should be praised for the policy of re-issuing material that those who come late to folk can access. This CD contains material from an older release plus six bonus tracks from another release called Banners, which celebrated the coal-mining industry and its history.

Lowe has a beautiful line in slightly comic songs with a bite. One of these is "The Guilts," which recounts a meeting between two people who obviously started out on the great folk circuit of protest and conscience. One retained his earlier principles and the other went for fame and fortune.

The Bad Pennies is a fantastic band and one of its members, Bev Saunders, is blessed with a most wonderful voice. It is ideally suited to Lowe's lyrics and nowhere is this more evident than on the fantastic "Alibi Child." This is raw emotion and real-life relationships set to music.

On "Song of the Indian Lass," Lowe gives us another wonderful track combining folk music, the Native American plight and a bit of mystery. One of my favourite tracks on an album of great tracks has to be "Dry Season Land."

After a dozen excellent songs, we enter the world of the miners and their trials and tribulations from the Banners project. This section opens with a great track featuring the ubiquitous brass band alongside traditional instruments and lyrics drawn from the wonderful old banners of the miner's union branches. Saunders comes to the fore again on the true story of the miner's wife on "Weave & Worry." Even the simple title tells their story, but the lyrics are classics of expression of small truths.

"Big Meeting Day" is back to humour and has a lovely singalong quality. A very short track closes this gem of an album. "Ready for Tomorrow" is sung by children and it combines the melody of "Weave & Worry" with a tale of the miners and their traditions and banners.

In addition to 18 tracks you get a beautiful insert with the song lyrics. This booklet is a work of art containing the paintings of Tom McGuinness. Even the small reproductions capture the lives and loves of the miners, especially the picture "Miner & Child."

by Nicky Rossiter
4 February 2006