REVIEW England Green & England Grey – Malcolm Carter, Pennyblack Music

“it’s the lightness in Meuross’s voice that brings his tales to life and draws the listener into his songs…. He shows that there’s no need to shout to be heard”

“Eighteen months after the release of ‘Leaves and Feathers’, the last album from British singer/songwriter Reg Meuross, the track ‘I Saw a Woman’ which was a highlight of that collection, still sends shivers down the spine; it’s a chilling tale at odds with the gentle, inviting vocals that Meuross tells all his stories in. Meuross isn’t the only artist who, just when you think they’ve peaked, produces another set that can now be defined as their best yet, but with ‘England Green and England Grey’ Meuross leaves the listener in little doubt that there are few singer/songwriters who currently come close.

‘England Green and England Grey’ is an important album; as the title suggests it’s Meuross’s thoughts about his country, and, as usual, with his work Meuross articulates the feelings of many of his countrymen while never once making the listener feel that he is preaching. Those warm vocals often belie the sharpness of the lyrics which make Meuross’s work that much more attractive than that of his contempories. Often labeled as folk music Meuross is so much more than that; with each passing album his work can be compared to that of other artists who are grouped into that genre but really don’t belong. While the pair are miles apart in their vocal style, the work of Billy Bragg comes to mind time and again while listening to ‘England Green and England Grey’. Although Bragg’s foghorn of a voice has matured nicely through the years and developed into that of a gruff but kindly, wise old uncle, it’s the lightness in Meuross’s voice that brings his tales to life and draws the listener into his songs.

England’s decline is the subject of the opening ‘What Would William Morris Say?’, an unexpected lively start to the album with Mike Cosgrave’s accordion somehow adding to the Englishness of the song. The pub sing-a-long chorus is irresistible, you’ll be singing along by the end of the song while recognising that lyrically Meuross has yet again summed up the feeling of the nation perfectly – “We used to go out in our town/We’d go to the pub ‘till the pubs shut down/They smashed the piano/No money for bands/Karaoke led the way/The bland leading the bland” before getting more serious and raising the issue of replacing farming communities with industrial complexes. It’s a strong opening shot that leaves the listener in little doubt that while lyrically thought provoking Meuross hasn’t lost his talent for flowing melodies to dress his acute observations in, and that ‘England Green and England Grey’ is going to be a intriguing journey.

‘Tony Benn’s Tribute To Emily Davison’ follows, another jaunty cut, this time dominated by rolling piano as Meuross fascinates us by singing about suffragette Davison who died after throwing herself under the king’s horse in June 1913. Tony Benn erected a plaque to Davison on the broom cupboard where she hid on the eve on the national Census in 1911, and it was this act that inspired Meuross to write the song. The song throws up another repercussion of listening to Meuross; those without any knowledge of Meuross’s subjects will spend not a little time researching the topics and characters in his stories eager to learn more. Such is the power of this artist’s work.

The title track is classic Meuross; without preaching he paints a vivid picture of what England meant to him and how it is slowing slipping out of grasp. Set to yet another irresistible melody lines like “Shut the factories/Shut the mines/Punish those fell on hard times?While they honour them who do the crimes/The greedy men of England” display the talent Meuross has in articulating the feelings of the everyman. Meuross does, however, conclude that “there is none so sweet as England” again reflecting how many of us feel. With heavenly vocals from Jess Vincent, not only on this song but spread throughout the album, it’s the song to go for if Meuross is a new name to you and you’d like a taster of this exceptional storyteller’s work.

Elsewhere Meuross turns his attention to a sufferer of dementia in ‘Counting My Footsteps to You’, while Meuross’s outstanding guitar playing is given a chance to shine on this track it’s the heartbreaking tale that touches the listener the most. It’s pointless to take a few lines of the lyrics and reproduce them here; they are available on the Reg Meuross web site and really deserve to be read even if the album doesn’t make it into your player, Meuross captures the awfulness of this illness so well; the way he sings “I can’t find my way home” will have anyone who has been in contact with those suffering from dementia reaching for the tissues.

‘They Changed Her Mind’ covers the reopening of a mental asylum that had remained unused since the early 60s and the discovery of suitcases containing the personal effects and details of some of the inmates. Again Meuross delivers a chilling tale, Phil Henry’s dobro adding much to the atmosphere and Vincent’s backing vocals once more embellishing the overall sound. It’s another breathtaking piece of music.

But for all the sensitive performances and subject matter Meuross and his band show they can still inject the urge to dance in the listener on songs such as ‘Sing To Me a Working Week’ with accordion and banjo adding to the party atmosphere.

There is much to be digested on ‘England Green and England Grey’, we haven’t even touched upon songs such as ‘The Band Played Sweet Marie’ a waltz based around the discovery of the violin given by Marie Robinson to her fiancé Wallace Hartley who was the bandleader of the Titanic, or ‘The Ballad Of Flora Sandes’, the only British woman to officially serve as a World War 1 soldier; again you’ll be thankful for the invention of the internet.

Meuross delivers his stories with so much conviction and passion yet still his vocals never lose their gentleness. He shows that there’s no need to shout to be heard and with a first class bunch of musicians fleshing out those unforgettable melodies which compliment his astute lyrical talent ‘England Green and England Grey’ should be heard by all music lovers, not just those interested in the folk and singer/songwriter genres Meuross is often grouped in with. ”

Malcolm Carter
Pennyblack Music

www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk/MagSitePages/Review.aspx?id=9752

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Reg Meuross Singer Songwriter Storyteller