Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * * * (5 Stars)
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.
Ian D. Hall
Liverpool Acoustic Review 5/5 Aug 6th 2021
Artist – John Jenkins
Album – If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love
Released – 6th August 2021
Reviewer – Helen Maw, Liverpool Acoustic
Rating – 5/5
If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love is the stunning new album from Liverpool singer
songwriter John Jenkins. The album, a collection of warm, emotive and uplifting tracks is a
true slice of Americana on the Mersey.
Recorded at Crosstown Studios in Liverpool, John has taken what has been a deeply
challenging and disruptive period for many musicians and artists and used it to create and
co-produce this album, his first since signing to Fretstore Records. Jenkins is well
established as one of the most prolific songwriters on Merseyside and combined with some
of the best musicians and producers the city has to offer, he has created something truly
The album sets a scene of a road trip, each song threading together a soundscape of
different emotions and stories. Jenkins takes us on a sonic journey with songs that capture
your imagination and transport you to the dusty roads of Route 66, telling tales of regret, love
and everything in between.
There are some real stand out tracks on this album. The opening song A Stranger To Your
Heart begins with a sense of vulnerability. Jenkins comes out into the open with a gentle
tone in his voice, his feelings raw and on the surface. The stunning fiddle solo brings a
beautiful change to the track and would not sound out of place in an old western bar.
Strangers On A Train is the breathtaking duet featured on the album. The track, co-written
by Jenkins and Liverpool musician Alison Benson is a heartbreaking ballad of love lost and
a stark reminder of the cruelness of the passage of time. The blending of John and Alison’s
voices creates a haunting track which stays with you long after you have listened to it.
Desert Hearts was released as a single earlier in the year. It’s a fantastic closing track, with
swelling guitars and percussion, uplifting brass and beautiful vocals. Jenkins’ voice is so full
of joy and soars perfectly over the top of the music. It’s a song that looks ahead to the future
and for me, provides the perfect driving off into the sunset feel. The arrangement for the
track is brilliant, with a hearty mix of rock guitar and classical strings. It truly is a song that
covers all bases and is sure to be one to remember.
This is a stellar album from Jenkins, his music can be listened to and appreciated by people
of all ages. His influences of Americana and Country are clear to see and there is no doubt
that this album is a labour of love. With songs that break your heart and pull you back
together all in one, John Jenkins is definitely one to watch and I cannot wait to see what he
© 2021 Liverpool Acoustichttps://liverpoolacoustic.co.uk/2021/08/album-review-john-jenkins-if-you-cant-forgive-you-cant-love/
Fatea Magazine - Inspirational and highly recommended.
There are so many albums produced these days with throwaway titles, so it is nice to see one come along with a title that really means something. The sentiments in the title of this new album from Liverpudlian John Jenkins, perfectly match the emotions and sentiments of his music. All are similar and feel like being given advice by your best friend.
Is John's music Folk or Americana? The definition is unimportant. What is obvious here is the passion and feel for life that John has and how he uses his music to express his thoughts and dreams.
The songs on offer here are delivered like an all over body massage, gently relaxing the senses and taking the listener to another world of imagination and emotion. John never shouts at the listener; he merely invites you to listen to him and his music, all of which is beautifully produced here with some wonderful backing.
It is claimed that John's influences range from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen, although I personally feel more of the vibes from early Cat Stevens with his thoughtful storytelling and gentle delivery.
Having spent many an hour travelling around the country by train, "Strangers On A train" resonates with me and perfectly captures the mind of the traveller. Alison Benson provides sublime vocals in this duet with John. "Cracks" is a story that will rip the heart out of a parent as a child goes astray. Heartrending emotion filled lyrics and coincidentally it also contains the first time that I have ever heard Woolworths mentioned in a song!
The Nashville Songwriters Association has nominated John as one to watch which says as much about his music as any review is capable of doing. John will be on tour in the UK during August.
Overall, this is a beautifully constructed and delivered album by a master lyricist with excellent observational skills and the ability to share these observations with the world through his songs. Inspirational and highly recommended.
Rory M Stanbridge
Folk Radio Review - "Makes you want to push the replay button and listen to the whole album all over again"
John Jenkins – If You Can’t Forgive, You Can’t Love
Fretstore Records – 6 August 2021
Drawing on Americana and Merseybeat roots with influences that embrace John Prine, Bruce Springsteen and The Beatles, the Liverpudlian singer-songwriter makes his new label debut with a solid collection of numbers, all bar one self-penned, on which he’s backed by some of the city’s best session musicians as well as backing vocals and harmonica from Rob Vincent.
Setting a generally downcast mood, it opens with A Stranger to Your Heart (“Wish I could understand/This detachment I feel/You make me sad/Constantly/There’s no benevolence/As far as I can see/And I wish I knew where to go”), the wintery circling guitar notes giving way to drums-driven Dire Straits in the Mohave feel brushed with Amy Chalmers’ strings.
Her violin is joined by Robbie Taylor’s Celtic-hued fiddle (and mandolin) along with Vincent’s bluesy harmonica, for the waltzing sway of Is That What They Say? from whence the title line comes and one of several songs that pivot around a theme of moving on or away. The narrator is replying to a letter from home, having left to try and make a new start. Rather than the expected sense of regret, they are somewhat casual as to the news of old acquaintances and assured that they made the right choice (“I think I’ve got things just right/I’ve got less fear of death/And more hope than I did for life”).
Along with travel, trains loom large too. Firstly, with the fingerpicked, lap steel coloured The Last Train from Baltimore, a factually-based countrified ‘why me’ story-song. It’s sung in the voice of Thomas Wilson, a former train driver remembering the tragedy that cost the lives of kids playing on the line, the papers accusing him of falling asleep at the wheel. It returns to the railway tracks later for Strangers on a Train, a ballad duet with co-writer Alison Benson that has melodic echoes of Don McLean’s Vincent as, reflecting “a million stories behind sad eyes/But just one life”, two passengers each muse on the other’s life (“I wonder if he’s what he seems/A creased old suit, a frayed cuff/Just like him in need of love”). Finally, Karl Parry’s harmonica wailing, When The Morning Comes, combines the two themes as the narrator takes the train away from a doomed relationship (“I took a wrong turn down a one way street/Got my fingers burnt but it felt so sweet”), feeling free but also offering “maybe I can meet you halfway”.
The cover arrives early on, an organ-backed take on Townes Van Zandt’s downbeat gloom of Kathleen, a mood of being at a loss of purpose in life echoed elsewhere on things like the strummed Tom Paxton-ish Living Someone Else’s Life on which, accompanied by lap steel, he sings “They say time my friend/Should be my own to spend/But it feels wasted and misused/Time and again/When I thought it was my friend/It reminded me I had something good to lose/Well I spend my todays/Complaining about yesterdays/And it won’t make tomorrow a better day”.
Elsewhere he takes two words inextricably linked to the idea of romance and turns them on their head as the jaunty Moon And June, featuring the splendidly names Jade Thunder on backing vocals, speaks of a confrontation rather than a caress (“We use to kiss goodnight now all we do is fight/Bickering like children/No logic or insight/Once ‘Mills and Boon’/Has become ‘High Noon’”).
Almost inevitably, the jazzily lazing tempo The End of Summer, burnished with strings and trumpet, Julia Fiebelkorn on backing vocals, muses on mortality (“I don’t want to live forever/But it would be nice to have some more time/Do those things I always wanted to/Leave this world with a smile/I don’t know if we get a second chance/Each day could be the last dance”) with a backdrop melody that conjures thoughts of Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell.
There are a couple more story-songs too. The first is the simple, finger-picked Cracks that paints a sad portrait of a girl who, fired from Woolworths when it was assumed she’d pilfered the till, her parents having given up on her long before dad died from booze, has fallen through the cracks. The song implies she is now lost and contemplating ending it all. Then, frisky with fiddle, banjo, mandolin and spoons and with Vincent on backing, the country rolling Hearts And Minds features another girl beaten down by life and her lover (“Make up covers the bruises”), wondering where it all went wrong and in need of just a little compassion to give her the strength to “find herself/And pick herself up from the floor”, but her heart unable to do what her head tells her.
It isn’t all grief and gloom, though. Taking a gospel piano and handclaps journey down its Beatles pathways, The Wrong Side of Sadness finds a ray of hope in a girl in the bar (“I’ve been on the wrong side of sadness/For too long/Maybe that’s why I wrote this song”), even if she does leave with someone else. With Lee Shone on piano, Tony Peers on trumpet and Dave Orford driving the drums along, it closes with the jangling guitars and sweeping/pizzicato strings defiance of Desert Hearts (“I’ve been down so many times/You can take all my money/But you won’t get my pride”), throwing in a Trump reference (“Weren’t you the guy/Who wanted to build that wall?/Peace love and understanding always wins”). Even with the bittersweet ending (“I’m watching the flowers grow/From my front porch/Where will I be tomorrow?/Does anybody really know?…Feel I’ve lived more than one lifetime/Will I ever get to see you, again?”) it leaves it on a definite musical high as Webb, Bacharach, The Searchers, Nick Lowe and McCartney come together for a joyful summery hook-laden indie-pop free-flying balloon ride that makes you want to push the replay button and listen to the whole album all over again.
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Americana UK Review 7/10
A varied collection of strong songs that repays repeated plays.
After being involved with Liverpool bands The Persuaders and Come in Tokio in the 80s, John Jenkins reappeared in 2015. He says of the shift from the post-punk of his previous bands to his current work; “The songs continued to come, but I did nothing with them. I’ve always been a fan of great songs and my listening led my writing closer to the songs of roots and country”. As with nearly all the albums we have heard this year ‘If You Can’t Forgive You Can’t Love’ is the product of the isolation of Lockdown. The process has been kind to many songwriters, including Jenkins.
Jenkins lists influences as coming from John Prine to The Beatles, and Nanci Griffith to Bruce Springsteen. You can hear The Boss and Prine in his music, but not much Beatles early on. ‘Strangers On A Train’, the album’s best ballad could have been a Ralph McTell or Michael Chapman song quite easily, on the quality of the songwriting alone. Opening song ’A Stranger to Your Heart’ starts as a John Martyn style ballad, but morphs quickly into a hard-rocking guitar solo. One of the features of the album are Amy Chalmers’ string arrangements, particularly effective on ‘The Last Train from Baltimore’, and ‘Kathleen’, where they are matched with a Hammond organ that gives the minor key song a menacing feel straight off a Hollywood soundtrack. Dave Goldberg’s organ solo on this song is another instrumental highpoint. Handclaps and a gospel piano open ‘The Wrong Side of Sadness’. Despite the title this is an upbeat piece that is one of the highlights. Set in the middle of the album, it contrasts with ‘Strangers on A Train’, a duet with another Liverpool singer Alison Benson. This has a Brief Encounter style storyline, and trains are a recurring theme, cropping up again in ‘When the Morning Comes’ a light 70’s pop song that is yet another shift in style. The strings and harmonica that feature elsewhere help this fit into the overall album feel though. In fact, several songs in the second half of the album have that 70’s feel, and could easily have appeared on a Wings album, so that’s the Beatles connection then.
If there is a criticism of the album it is that stylistically it dots about rather, but when the songs are of such high quality that’s easy to forgive. It is easy to pick out songs rather than playing the album as a whole, which might be to miss some gems. This is a record that needs a few plays to get under your skin, but the song repays the effort as there is no weak tunes here. Jenkins’ indie-rock roots show through particularly on closer ‘Desert Hearts’, a song good enough to make you press the repeat button.