Having moved on from the roar of the 5 piece band Calvin Party, songwriter John Donaldson has maintained his fury at the failings of society as JD Meatyard, but setting this within a quieter, acoustic setting across both his self-titled album (2011) and Northern Songs (2013). This month sees the release of his third album as a solo artist with Taking The Asylum out once again on the Probe Plus label, and all three wizards were keen to get an early listen.
The first thing to note is that the sound of this new album is fuller than before with the additional vocals of Natasha Lea Jones (formerly of Pooka) and the violin of Dave Clarke joining forces with regular drummer/percussionist, Johan Visschers, and long-time guitar sidekick, Steven Lindley, giving more of a band feel to proceedings and allowing for more musical subtlety across the tracks.
As always Donaldson’s lyrics are spilling over with truth whether expressing his almost unrestrained anger at the West’s disinterest in war crimes being committed in the Middle East or heartbreaking introspection at the faltering of personal relationships. This combination of the personal and the political, the Love Songs And Rage, works perfectly in creating a passionately intelligent and heartfelt look at the world we live in from a man whose integrity and honesty is never in doubt. Indeed, he leads us through the light and dark of modern times in a way that calls to mind the words of the American poet, Thomas McGrath:
“May you fare well, campanero, let us journey together joyfully, living on catastrophe, eating the pure light.”
Track by track:
1. We’ll Always Have New York The album opens to the wistful sound of a man seemingly singing to himself before the song proper kicks in and it is clear that the songwriter has no choice but to write these songs to ‘see him through’. Violin is immediately to the fore and you can almost picture the Hudson River flowing green.
2. It’s A Wonderful Day The haunting backing vocals make you question just how wonderful the day in question really is despite the cheery ‘yays’ towards the end of the song. There are also some fantastic flamenco type guitar flourishes to take you to an unnamed ‘faraway beach’.
3. Love Songs And Rage Another violin driven song that sounds like a traditional tune we should probably recognise, but don’t, with more expert acoustic guitar picking and lyrics like “the cross with a broken arm Jesus”.
4. Waves This is the first time drums (played by Simon Fort) are heard on the album and they combine to great effect with some stellar off-kilter electric guitar and a chant type vocals. This is definitely an early highlight on the album and it’s no surprise when JD manically announces that he’s going nowhere gently. “The waves roll in, the waves roll out, there’s nothing much left but a trace.”
5. Anna Had A Kid This is the first of the songs we heard played live at The Lomax in Liverpool back in January, but here the acoustic guitar is joined not only by violin, but also by a really nice insistently pounding additional guitar sound that grows with the deepening misery of the tale – tremendous stuff. “No guilt for the living of a life… Anna went and died”
6. Catch A Falling Star This is a slower paced acoustic number that sounds like a love letter to partner (or possibly a record label?) that explains the singer can’t help that he’s “got no ambition.. the paint as it dries has a mystery to me.” This is a very pretty song that disses careerist musicians quite brilliantly “Mr Success has to tell me how he got so far … but I cried.”
7. Never Seen A Kid Born Bad A jaunty number with a great singalong chorus that manages to reference The Fall and at the same time echo Bob Dylan in his protest pomp railing against the bankers running away. Plenty more lovely guitar work here too.
8. We Got Today Another love song (to NYC?) with some nice brushes-on-drums type percussion and a guitar line that will lift you up whatever your mood. Some brilliant turns of phrase too: “I got a thousand ways to hate… but not today.. gonna park my spleen in a vacuum pack … and never look back”
9. Four Kids Playing On A Gaza Beach So much for the packed up rage… this short song follows on from the track Olive Tree from the first JD Meatyard album and uses the tune to the traditional song James Connolly to great effect to rail against the Palestinian situation. Starting with the audible disbelief from someone hearing about the Israeli attack on Gaza Port “it’s insane”, it then reverts to a simple backing of handclaps and lone violin to help tell the story. This is as direct as a political song gets and is ever more powerful as a result. What else needs to be said than “4 kids blown.. they’re blown to pieces”? However, it seems that it’s only JD Meatyard who’s saying it. An important song.
10. Taking The Asylum Another song we heard live and here again it’s a full band effort with great electric guitar bursting through the acoustic strum to soundtrack a pleading with society to sort itself out and see that the singer really isn’t wrong to complain. “You dress your kids in thongs and high heels, and you say that I’m strange…” An audio wtf.
11. Satisfied Heart This countrified love song really showcases the soul in the voice of JD Meatyard. There are echoes of Hank Williams all over this and great harmonies from Ms Jones. With a lovely melody and more Spanish style lead guitar, it is simply gorgeous stuff.
12. 10 Miles Low Great clattery electric guitar here underpins a rant about… well, it’s not always clear, but we can tell JD is clearly really pissed off. Despite the many ship references, I get the feeling the captain here is metaphorical and it is the political leaders who are leaving the “ship without a driver”. Top quality screaming occurs twice in this song.
13. We’ll Always Have New York (Reprise) After the angst of the previous song, here we have a timely reminder of the songwriter’s lot and that despite “whatever else happens”, we have to enjoy what life gives us. The bookending of the anger and frustration with such a positive song gives an overall warm feel to a coherent and compelling view of the modern world and the challenges we all face.
So, there you have it. A unanimous wizard vote of approval for the latest from JD Meatyard. This is an album you need to have in your collection and you can get a copy here. If you are quick enough, pre-orders are currently being packaged up with a vinyl copy of the Levellers 5 – Springtime. So what are you waiting for?
We will also be talking about the album and choosing a track to play on podcast number 38, so look out for that.
Finally, at the end of last year this video appeared with a track that was seemingly scheduled to appear on the album, but perhaps it didn’t quite fit. It’ll fit nicely here though, so here’s JD Meatyard’s tribute to the wonderful Hovis Presley.