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JEZ LOWE & THE BAD PENNIES 'Doolally' Tantobie Records TTRCD105

Blimey! Is it really his 14th album release since 1980? Starting off sounding like a refugee from a hillbilly album (or even a calypso?) with its rolling bass and double-stopped fiddle the track 'You And Your Golden Vanity' is somewhat unsettling - but in a pleasant, knowing way. The introduction of the Northumbrian smallpipes will also throw you until you hear Jez's familiar vocals then things start to get more focused. Jez has always managed to adopt a clever turn of phrase and the title of the song itself could lead some into thinking this is a song about a ship but no, it's based on an old North East superstition.

As I've maintained before I'm a bit of a late starter when it comes to getting involved with lyrics (they used to come a scant second when I was concentrating on the arrangements or music) but thanks to artists such as Jez, Kirsty McGee and Emily Slade I now find myself actually reading the words because I want to. Jez has the knack of transferring what might appear to us lesser mortals a passing thought into an eloquent art form. Fortunately for the general public his songs are destined to find a far wider audience than just 'folk' due in no small part to their accessible nature. The title track 'Donnini Doolally' ably demonstrates the point in that it takes for its subject matter the tale of Dennis Donnini who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for valour only for his father to be snubbed by the authorities after wishing to thank the King personally for the award. Heart wrenching stuff that has been diligently researched and in many respects I'm sure for the family they will appreciate the song far more than the accolade of receiving the medal itself.

A lot of the creative edge is drawn from Jez's interest in his local area (Durham) but he can just as easily let situations from many parts of world influence his writing as on 'Calico'. By the way, I've just realised that I haven't congratulated the rest of the Bad Pennies who are now an integral part of Jez's recording process and increasingly working as a touring unit. Kate Bramley (fiddle) has established herself as one of the mainstays of the band alongside multi-instrumentalist Andy May plus new kid on the block bass player Sean Taylor. Although it's rare for Jez to hand over the lead vocals ('Last Of The Widows' comes to mind) the choice of 'Regina Inside' beautifully performed by Kate is a good one.

In general I'd say this is far more a listener's album than we're used to and although there may not be a song to hang your coat on like 'Black Diamonds' or 'High Part Of The Town' that doesn't make the album any less enjoyable. To many - myself included - Jez has become something of a National hero and we should be proud to count him as part our English heritage.

By the way, I nearly forgot to mention the excellent booklet courtesy once again of the outstanding Bryan Ledgard and photographer Alan Bennington. Nice one chaps!

Pete Fyfe

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This album was reviewed in Issue 58 of The Living Tradition magazine.