Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * * * (5 Stars)
John Jenkins, If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love. Album Review.
Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * * *
To apologise is hard, to forgive is challenging, and yet we are urged from early in life to see forgiveness as a way of promoting love for one’s self, to be able to move on from the perceived sleight, the moment of indiscretion, of the falling foul to all that makes us human; yet forgiving seems to be the hardest emotion to conquer, it would seem for many the easier option is make life intolerable for someone, to put them down, to find ways in which to destroy another human being just because they made a mistake.
If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love, not necessarily the action of regaining the adoration of another, but in the response to your own soul, and it is the soul that is the most important factor to consider when weighing up to forgive, (maybe not even forgetting) or going down the endless cycle of repeating recriminations. It is a cycle that leads to destruction, but also one that can add melody and beauty to the heavy heart encountered in the melancholic and the lament, and one so vibrantly captured in sheer expression by John Jenkins in his incredibly passionate and vibrantly elegiac album, If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love.
To know John Jenkins is to love him, and safe in the knowledge that there is nothing to forgive as he reveals the heart on his sleeve and shows his mind to be open, precise and modest as he has ever been, and what is perhaps arguably his finest set of songs to date, the truth of the moment becomes clear, that whilst separately the songs could be seen as hugely important, it is when they are placed together that they become a tonic, a restorative, a piece of art that understands that sadness is not to be shunned, but accepted as a monument to our emotional resonance and how we bring ourselves back into the light.
The album’s tracks, of which several have made their way gloriously into the minds of the listener during the course of the year so far, Kathleen, The Last Train From Baltimore, The Wrong Side Of Sadness, Strangers On A Train, Living Someone Else’s Life, When The Morning Comes and Desert Hearts, are complimented by the song Is That What They Say, a dramatic song of lost opportunityand regret, punctuated by the belief of how we hope those who brought us into the world would hopefully see us at our best, would still love us.
With the award-winning Rob Vincent, Amy Chalmers, Dave Orford, Lee Shone and Alison Benson all weaving their own sense of magic and occasion into every sweet moment that the album provides, If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love, becomes the centre-piece into which the emotions of the listener become wonderfully entangled with that of the artist; like being captivated and admitting to being awe-struck in front of a painting by Constable, Turner or Maclise, or feeling your heart pushed to a new boundary of belief by the poetry of Keats or Anne Askew, so John Jenkins has plainly, undoubtedly, presented his own art with exceptional understanding. Outstanding!
John Jenkins releases If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love via Fretsore Records on August 6th.
An artist I’ve been listening to and indeed writing about for five years now, the UK’s own and a songwriter and voice just perfectly connected to what moves and calms a listener – John Jenkins has a brand new album out soon, and it’s one of the best collections of original songs to emerge so far this year.
Following the initial heart-breaking yet beautiful reality of the album’s title, If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love, there’s something equally revealing and rather blissful about the opening simplicity and warmth of A Stranger to Your Heart. John’s voice, quiet and comforting, familiar, accessible, genuine, meets with the simple strum of the acoustic guitar, and offers this intimate, descending melody, with short lines of softly spoken poetry. The first third is a thing of its own, and then the beat drops in, the soundscape broadens, and the piece energises in a way that sets up the rest of the album just perfectly.
Is That What They Say follows on, a country ballad with Celtic undertones and a brilliantly folk-like story running through its simple melody. Complete with harmonica, strings, and a gorgeous resolve, the song details the topic of gossip in a small town – familiar lines seem unique yet also naturally remind us of similar chit-chat that makes its way through most of our lives. The final verse is quite beautiful, John has a way with making the most striking lyrics softly pierce through just when your guard is down.
Keeping arrangement effective, The Last Train From Baltimore takes on finger-picking and imagery for another glimpse of fire-side folk that observes and reflects all at once. Then we get a touch of sultry swagger and soul as the wonderful Kathleen pours through – a Townes Van Zandt cover and the first official single from the album.
Moon And June is an early highlight for its simple and joyous rhythm and colour, the optimism of the melody and the ache of the story in contrast, the recognisable acoustic riff.
Cracks follows on well with another image-laden story that captivates in this stripped-back setting. Gorgeous vocals from John, as always, meander through this melody in a softly emotive and pure manner. The album title comes to mind, not for the first time – its truth feels heavy yet important; If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love.
Not wanting to ramble I try to summarise and point to highlights, but there’s not a bad song on this album – not even one that falls below par. The Wrong Side Of Sadness is perhaps a slow burner but only in terms of its progression from good to great. Contrasting brightness of music and lyrical struggle once again, ultimately leaving a sense of beauty and soul lingering; that piano part is especially powerful.
Strangers On A Train feels like a timeless folk classic, paired vocals offer a welcomed dynamic – a little Beautiful South but with more of a gentle and contemplative writing style. Then the sudden western twang and knees-up intro of Hearts and Minds kicks in with a brilliantly uplifting rhythm and pace. Never one to submit to prediction though, John weaves in an unexpected story, and more than a few lyrics that inspire a deeper level of thought and awareness in the listener.
Living Someone Else’s Life is a personal favourite, one I might choose to replay if there somehow isn’t time for the whole album. But then, the sudden colour and caress of The End Of Summer helps it really settle in, and this is true of the entire thirteen-track arrangement – each new song compliments the last, and indeed the next, in a wonderful way.
As a final example, the familiar pop-rock embrace of When The Morning Comes is followed rather epically by the build-up and drop into indie-rock anthem territory for a mighty closing track that is Desert Hearts; an absolute must-hear from the new album, and a great way to round up this conceptual, deeply considerate journey.
Superb, stunning even. Musically familiar, a project that could, on the one hand, blend in with the ambiance of many pubs and rooms that choose to play it. However, if you let yourself really listen, John’s voice – his overall artistic voice, not just the one that sings – shines with a uniquely intricate and thoughtful brightness. This album reminds us of many things that matter in life, not least of all the consistently illuminated fact; If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love.
The idea of releasing cover songs is often a minefield to navigate as a musician. There is always the concern that though you may be paying homage to a musical hero, you may not always do it justice. However, with velvety vocals and stunningly beautiful strings, John Jenkins’ latest release of the Townes Van Zandt track Kathleen is a stellar tribute to the original.
There is a vulnerability to the track, with Jenkins’ vocals hovering over the complex organ parts and beautiful string arrangements, which are thanks to Merseyside musician and arranger Amy Chalmers. It is never intrusive, but stands out as assured and carries you along with the track. Jenkins embodies the spirit of the song and despite the tragic circumstances in which Van Zandt lived and passed, Kathleen carries on through stunning cover versions such as this.
The instrumentation of the song is well produced and compliments the vocals. There is a relaxed laziness to it, it lulls you and allows you to ease into the song.
The track is taken from Jenkins’ highly anticipated album If You Can’t Forgive, You Can’t Love, which is due for release on the 6th August and features the critically acclaimed single Desert Hearts as well as Strangers on a Train, a duet with Alison Benson.
John will also be embarking on a 10-date national tour beginning on the 18th of August.
John Jenkins is definitely one to watch and I look forward to hearing his album when it is released.