Review of Leaves & Feathers from Pennyblack Music. April 2013

Reg Meuross: Leaves and Feathers For Pennyblack Magazine April 2013

Reviewed By: Malcolm Carter
Label: Hatsongs Records
Format: CD

Over the course of his seven solo albums (eight if you include 1991’s Flamingos backed ‘Arrested’) Somerset-based Reg Meuross has built up a strong and loyal following. Most of our favourite singer/songwriters come up with a real stinker of an album every so often – Dylan, Young, Leven even, have all released under-par albums along the way. One of this country’s best has even taken to singing in an American accent on his latest album, abandoning the very thing that attracted us to his music in the first place. This alone sets Meuross apart from his contemporaries. Over the course of his long musical career Meuross has never delivered an uninspired song let alone a whole album that isn’t up to the standard we have come to expect from him.

The second thing that sets Meuross apart is that people who would usually run as fast as they can to avoid yet another acoustic–playing sensitive singer/songwriter can be heard to yell “play that again” when Meuross’s latest collection of songs, ‘Leaves and Feathers’, reaches its end. Little has changed in Meuross’s world, it seems, over the course of his eight albums. Those gentle, warm vocals still sound the same, his way with beguiling melodies is still evident on each and every of the twelve new songs here and Meuross is still cramming his little stories into appealing three minute songs. Calling Meuross a singer-songwriter really doesn’t do the man justice. Meuross doesn’t write lines of lyrics. He writes short stories then sets them to some of the most captivating melodies you’ll ever hear.

That may sound like Meuross hasn’t progressed at all over the years; he’s not really doing anything radically different from say 1996’s ‘The Goodbye Hat’, but why ruin a good thing? With a voice that is easy to like, he is far from the acquired taste needed for the Dylans and Youngs of this world, and writes lyrics that place the listener firmly in the setting of his songs. It is hard not to be captivated as his stories unfold, especially as many of them are based on real events. On ‘Leaves and Feathers’ Meuross really strips his sound back though, more so than he has on previous albums, which lends an intimate atmosphere to the whole album.

For those unable to catch Meuross live, it is the next best thing. The album was sympathetically produced by Meuross and Roy Dodds at Abbey Road Studios and the effect is stunning, while Meuross always had the ability to draw you into his songs this latest set will have you standing in the fields and places he sings about. He is that close. Accompanied only by Beth Porter on cello and with Lily Meuross and Jess Vincent providing back-up vocals, this is Meuross telling his stories just for you.

For all the mellowness in his vocals Meuross, at times, creates some of the most chilling stories you’ll ever hear set to music. This is something Meuross has done on all his albums and continues to do so on ‘Leaves and Feathers’.

‘Jenny’s War’ from 2011’s ‘The Dreamed and the Drowned’ still chills after numerous plays, being the harrowing tale of a Falkland Island couple touching all who hear it. ‘Until I Hold You Once Again’ from 2008’s ‘Dragonfly’ finds a mother watching her daughter getting ready to earn her living one evening on the streets and hotels of a city; another of Meuross’s true stories, the girl was eventually found murdered.

On ‘Leaves and Feathers’, the most chilling moment comes during the song ‘I Saw a Woman’. Describing seeing a woman lying in a field “moving in a most unusual way”, it captures the attention especially when framed in one of Meuross’s prettiest melodies. While watching hidden by trees, Meuross then notices “halfway from her to me, another man was watching too” before Porter’s cello chills you to the bone. As with all good songs the way you interpret it is probably different to the way the composer initially intended, but as the story unfolds lines like “everybody needs to be alone/ everybody needs to touch the ground” maybe offers some clue.

‘My Jerusalem’ is a track that’s going to attract a lot of attention. “They come in pretty suits of blue/Their sweet smiles hide their poison tongues/ They talk of dreams and pastures new/But power’s dark breath corrupts their lungs” and “with broken promises they went, to the broken promised land” are just a few of the cutting and thought-provoking lines scattered throughout this obvious nod to Blake’s “green and pleasant land”. No wonder that Mike Harding has already aired the song describing it as “stunning”.

Although it is Meuross’s way with words that make his songs stand out and the melodies that he writes make sure that the songs stay fresh even after dozens of plays, little is ever written about his obvious talents on the guitar, or any instrument he picks up to play it appears. Meuross proves again on this collection that he is a remarkable guitarist.

There are a number of love songs on ‘Leaves and Feathers’ that are among the best Meuross has ever recorded. The opening song, ‘One Way Ticket to Louise’, will find you sitting on the same bus as Meuross as he travels to his lover. His description of what he sees, of those around him as he gets ever nearer to his destination is fascinating to say the least. Seldom has a bus journey sounded so interesting. ‘All I Really Want’ and ‘If You Wanna Be Mine’ follow in the same vein, while ‘I Need You’ is a touching tale of a love lost with stunning, haunting backing vocals from either Lily Meuross or Jess Vincent that will have grown men weeping.

‘My Name Is London Town’ successfully drags ‘Streets of London’ into 2013. Again the imagery Meuross paints as the song takes you through those streets is striking. Despite lines such as “I’m the bomb in Victoria, the fire at Kings Cross” and “I’m the nine o’clock dole queue and the ten o’clock train”, it made this listener feel more home sick that he has done in many years.

‘Leaves and Feathers’ is arguably the best album Meuross has produced so far. The stripped-back sound brings Meuross’s tales to life perfectly. It shows that songs as strong and powerful as those Meuross writes need few embellishments but most of all it confirms what we knew all along; that Meuross is one of the most talented storytellers of our generation.

 

One Response to Review of Leaves & Feathers from Pennyblack Music. April 2013

  1. Janet Applegarth says:

    Eight folks of a “certain” age from Embleton Northumberland so much enjoyed being part of the film of your recording of “My Jerusalem”. Some of us thought it was a bit cynical and others thought it was “spot on”.
    Our favourite story and song was about the violin from the Titanic. A wellknown journalist called W T Stead who did much good work to protect young women died on the Titanic. He was born in Embleton.
    You have extended your fan club! All good wishes.

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Reg Meuross Singer Songwriter Storyteller