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Album review - John Reed, The Dry Life
The Dry Life
Veteran Manchester musician John Reed´s latest foray into experimental folk was inspired by a conversation about odd shaped instruments, and this recording features several, including the Cittern (John´s main instrument), N´goni and Uilleann Pipes (which is about as odd shaped as an instrument can get).
On the 5 track EP (plus two remixes) it is the fervid production that stands out. Like John´s last release (Moorscape) this EP has been produced by the prolific electronica producer HeyGamal. Its an ambitious, if unconventional marriage of styles which, at points works well, but at times fits the theme of feeling a bit odd shaped.
HeyGamal and John create a complex landscape of instruments, electronic sounds, and ambient noise that transports the listener over undulating musical styles from New Orleans to New Delhi, all guided by John´s very English male vocal. This voice sits atop the music in unadorned simplicity which at best feels immense and timeless but occasionally slips into mundanity and it is this normality in the vocal which is the weakest part of the recording, especially when competing with such deeply complex production.
Lyrically John makes no pretence at masterful poetry; but he expresses himself simply and clearly, often repeating lines (perhaps unnecessarily) many times. There are a couple of political songs on this release which succeed in walking the difficult line between being too subtle and being overly preaching. He also touches on more emotional topics but unfortunately never quite delves into his own personal feelings and so casts no new light on the human condition.
"Dry the Life" is a cynical social commentary on those sapping the world around him.
Atmospheric "Night" takes you to a historic midnight moorland.
"She Cries" carries a message about men´s continuing low level abuse of women.
"The Sun Goes Round the Moon" lists some of the nonsense taught by the church and others over the years.
"The Smile" is an uplifting, nursery rhythm, gospel blues dedicated to those suffering with long term and hidden illnesses.
The final two tracks on the release are remixes of "Dry the Life". The last one sees HeyGamal given a free hand which he uses to create an atmospheric electronica track which although entertaining could have gone further. I would have enjoyed hearing it break into harder rhythms, drum and bass even, there is much to explore mixing folk and electronica, young and old.
JOHN REED: Cittern & Vocals, N´goni, 6 and 12 string acoustic guitars, Electric guitar
EMMA PERRY & KATE FERRIS: Backing vocals
MATT STEADY: Violin & Uilleann pipes
KIERAN HEANEY: Electric guitar on "Night"