Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5
If the general theme of John Jenkins’ new album is perhaps lost youth, the ageing process and mortality, then the songs are delivered in a deceivingly youthful voice. The immediate expectation, judging by the cover shot, is of old time fiddle tunes from the Appalachian Mountains, yet Growing Old, subtitled Songs From My Front Porch, is far from this. Each of the dozen songs are accompanied by a simple guitar-led arrangement, with an emphasis on people, locations and time; the lonely war hero in “Daniel White” for instance, or the dark backwoods of the Townes Van Zandt influenced “Bear Lake County” to the highly personal temporal meditation embedded in the title song.
The Liverpool singer songwriter is joined by one or two additional singers and musicians, each of whom help to lift the already strong arrangements. There’s a Celtic feel to “Heartlands”, emphasised through the fiddle and flute accompaniment, courtesy of Amy Chalmers and Andy Connolly respectively. Then there’s a rich vocal duet with Siobhan Maher-Kennedy on the tender “The Mountain Between Us”, whilst the elements are on hand to help give “Jackson’s Farm” all the necessary atmosphere. Good songs, well played and delivered with humility.
Choice Track: Jackson’s Farm (NSV 505)
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Posted By :Alan O'Hare Posted Date : June 13, 2020 In Music Reviews, News And Reviews, Reviews
Artist – John Jenkins
Album – Growing Old – Songs From My Front Porch
Released – 26th April 2020
Reviewer – Alan O’Hare, Liverpool Acoustic
Albums are on a collision course with disaster.
It’s not too hard to see into a future where ten or twelve songs, collected together by an artist and released with a theme in mind, no longer exists. That would be a massive shame, of course. But time and change stop for nothing.
‘Growing Old – Songs From My Front Porch’ is an album that asks you to stop for an hour and bask in its atmosphere. Veteran Liverpool songwriter John Jenkins has put together a record that looks back to a time when singer/songwriters such as James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell roamed the earth and devoured all that came before them.
This is a collection of songs centred on the self and filled with music dripping with sincerity and sensitivity. Sounding like a cup of black coffee tastes in the morning, with an aesthetic to match, it’s dominated by monochrome acoustic guitars, wounded strings and ethereal electric textures.
Jenkins’ latest is a reckoning with nostalgia, then, and lives and dies with its ability to keep listeners interested across eleven heartfelt songs of similar shapes and sounds. The tempos don’t change and colour is never allowed to seep in, as this black and white movie plays out over an hour of looking back.
It’s an old-fashioned headphones record, in short, and one to be played looking through a window dripping with raindrops as you long for days that have passed you by.
Perfect for lockdown listening? Perhaps.
The music (Amy Chalmers’ violin, Andrew Connally’s flutes and whistles in particular) is often beautiful and Jenkins’ best lyrics and melodies (‘Heartlands’, ‘Jackson’s Farm’, ‘I’m Almost Over You’) leave you
smiling wryly as another longing lament refuses to leave your brain.
‘Growing Old – Songs From My Front Porch’ is a defiant piece of work that stands out of time in a world changing with every turn.
Review © 2020 Alan O’Hare, Liverpool Acoustic
Title:Growing Old - Songs From My Front Porch
Reviewed By:Steve Kinrade
John Jenkins' latest musical offering sees him not only consolidating himself as one of Merseyside’s finest songwriters, but also that, like a fine single malt, he is maturing just nicely with age. 'Growing Old' presents us with twelve songs which see Jenkins muse about the life events and the effect the ageing process has on your environment, relationships and self. And as a result, he has successfully evoked - through musical alchemy - an atmosphere of melancholy, hope and benign perspective.
It has to be said that Jenkins is at his most successful when he creates an aural intimacy between himself and his listener, like he is sitting beside you, singing softly, to you and only you. It is at this moment that an emotional bond is created that transforms you to remember those life events that shaped all of us. Hence this scene is set with the opening composition 'Growing Old', and consolidated by the songs that come after - the Larkinesque 'Daniel White', 'Heartlands' and the achingly beautiful 'A Mother’s Devotion' This intimacy is, however, broken by Jenkins' duet with Siobhan Maher-Kennedy - 'This Mountain Between Us' - which although a good song, sadly manages to momentarily break this sense of intimacy Jenkins has created. This other voice breaks the spell….
The production is top notch, with very fine performances by the guest musicians. A
particular doffing of the cap should be directed towards the guest musicians, especially John Lawton for some majestic guitar work, Andy Connolly for his outstanding flute creativity and Amy Chalmers for her violin and string arrangements - her work on 'Jackson’s Farm', which evokes the ghost of Nick Drake collaborator Richard Kirkby, is simply superb.
'Growing Old' is an album which reveals different aspects of itself through repeated
listenings. It possesses a richness of life experience and emotion, which, given the title, you would expect. In his previous work Jenkins seems fascinated by the hope and potential that the wide-open spaces of America seems to offer. Yet he has the instinct to recognise that the authentic insights happen close to home, within us, and to those who.share the space around us. A rare skill indeed.
This is a collection of songs that succinctly encapsulate the feelings and experiences of a life lived. And through Jenkins shrewd and nuanced observations, he gives us an emotional blueprint to take on those challenges that the ageing process makes us all face. A real gem of an album.
“Growing Old – Songs From My Front Porch” evoked two things to me, just from the title alone.
First, it seemed reflective, and second it seemed as intimate as one of the house gigs John Jenkins often plays.
Time and time again the characters are living with their regrets. Whether it’s the ageing process in the title track: “Whatever happened to the youthful me?” he asks himself in the second line here, “A shadow of the man I used to be” he says by the fourth. And yet there’s an acceptance too. “I can’t fight it, it makes me frightened.”
The whole record seems to be framed by that thought. Facing up to what scares you. Dealing with what you can’t change.
Jenkins is a “songwriters songwriter” if you will, a favourite of John Peel he is often seen with his James Street Band, having been in bands like The Persuaders and Come in Tokio, and appearing with the likes of Elvis Costello and Echo And The Bunnymen. That lifetime of skill, craft and ability is all over this.
As someone who loves words and their use, their imagery, there is so much to get stuck into here. “Daniel White” has a quite stunning phrase. “His single bed is no larger than a tomb” he sings, as the acoustic, fragile accompaniment is perfect. Even here, though, the character is looking back: “if only people could see, the man he used to be…..”
“Heartlands” – as with a lot of music from the city of Liverpool, naturally I suppose – has a real Celtic folk feel, and “A Mothers Devotion” is such lovely, shimmering Americana, that there are bands all over the Heartland who would be proud to call it their own.
Except, this is resolutely Liverpudlian. Jenkins sings in his own voice, a thing sure to get bonus points on these pages and so it does here. “The Mountain Between Us” is a duet with Sibohan Maher-Kennedy and the dynamic between the two is beautiful, and the more country, if you will, “Bear Lake County” has superb harmonies and its violins from Amy Chambers give it a real mournful air.
On his website it talks about playing with the brilliant Dean Owens, and you can see the synergy between the two. The class, the use of words, the dark, yet stoic melancholy, and the idea – that especially here for Jenkins – there is a real catharsis. The Harmonica link on “Dying By Inches” seem to match the misery in the words. “I think of these people,” he sings here, “who came to this port, with the belief they’d find hope and liberty.” Maybe he’s singing about the people so betrayed by the Windrush scandal, the truth is I don’t know, but I guess songs can mean whatever you want them to? Certainly when they are this good, they can.
“Jackson Farm” starts in the rain, with the guitar perhaps as a beacon of sunshine, “A Wiser Man Than Me” – again there is talk here about “being a memory of the man I used to be – as if he is searching still for answers – has some percussion from Jon Lawton, which takes it somewhere else altogether.
“I Am Almost Over You” sounds to me like a British Elliot Smith, and it also sounds like he is never going to get over her, no matter: “good times stand for something” he suggests, “but good times seldom stay” and if “I’m Coming Home” is troubadour stuff in the classic mould, then the details, the small little things, suggest surely that this is personal, and “The Last Song” goes back again to the overt folk with its flute intro.
On that one he tells us everything: “I feel like I’ve been singing all my life. Lonely, so lonely.”
Then there’s a bonus track which suggests that wherever else he’s looking for a connection it isn’t online: After suggesting that: “Spotify just played my song, another million hits and I can get a taxi home”, comes this gem: “My Facebook page is getting on my tits, but you know what, I don’t care anymore…..”
But he does. You know he does. That’s the point, and that’s why, “I Just Don’t Care” sounds like the happiest song here. Because he can’t give up, even if he wanted to. This 45 minutes is all you need to know about john Jenkins. These songs aren’t in from his front-porch at all. This music is from his heart, its in his blood.