Two birds with one stone..
It was a lovely surprise to get a Facebook message from Pete Jackson asking for my address to send an album to. I’ve still not quite gotten used to that! I first saw him perform at a Dogfest I think ages ago, the last time was at Bostin’ Days. Mostly I’ve seen him with his acoustic guitar belting out Levellers songs – which I certainly have no objection to, but it’s exciting to get to hear someone’s own creations.
Upon picking up Two Birds I had a peruse of the track listing and credits – there’s a full band on here, Pete does the vocals, guitars and mandolin – but he’s backed up by Jamie Lynch on bass, Stuart Robson on drums, Lynn Holt on flute and whistle and James Bennett on keyboards. The prospect of a full band sound is exciting – his collaboration with Lynn on the Bostin’ Days CD for The Road is one of the highlights on a universally strong collection of Levellers covers.
Distortion and a pitch-change kicks off Come What May – dispassionate lyrics over acoustic guitar talk of drudgery and impatience, before the chorus introduces energetic electric guitar riffs and empassioned vocals – and there’s a killer guitar solo thrown into the mix too. Everywhere starts gently speaking of the horrors of what might be in store once the alarm clock rings, there’s clever pace changes as the full band kicks in – harmonised vocals, and anxiety-drenched lyrics.
Only Being Social has a much folkier feel from the start – as it progresses there are layers of more rock-infused guitar work. It’s a lyrically optimistic and upbeat song, despite the subject of spending your wages in a single day of pub-based benevolence. The predictable downfall from this action does yield more reward than the initial one of homelessness and a can of Special Brew fortunately for the subject of the piece!
A recording of a newsreader is an atmospheric intro to Aurora as some beautiful flute overlays along with acoustic guitar – subdued vocals are wholly appropriate for telling the chilling tale of the 2012 shooting in a cinema in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Such an awful theme sensitively dealt with both musically and lyrically – it might actually be the stand-out track on the album for me despite the harrowing imagery it puts in your head.
Great North Road charts the misadventures of a gentleman highwayman – John Nevison, a notorious evader of justice after arrest. A traditional folky feel with acoustic guitars and swirling whistles tells his defiant story – right up until the point he’s betrayed by a landlady and handed over to the authorities to face the gallows which seems to have been an inevitability from the narrator’s perspective. It has a ludicrously catchy chorus.
Recession kicks in with military style percussion joined by guitar strums kicking into a cheerful ska-esque bounce, a topical theme of financial woes and difficulties. I could see this one leading to a lively moshpit of solidarity! Rotterdam isn’t a Beautiful South homage, luckily – it sounds like a documentary of an epic stag do, starting with a ship’s horn and gull noises it documents how a bottle of Disaronno can lead to all manner of escapades all set to a bouncy folky tune. I’m intrigued to know what Sam did to warrant potential abandonment!
The pace drops for With You – a melancholic love song centred around missing a significant other, set over beautiful delicate guitar and mandolin work – once the pace picks up it ends up feeling almost cheerful. Almost, but still with pangs of missing someone. This is a charming song. I Won’t Stop You sees keyboards and guitar leading to downbeat vocals, labouring under the difficulties of encouraging a significant other in their endeavours in lieu of being selfish – and ultimately succeeding. I think.
Cannons starts with a drum and guitar intro which slows down once the vocals kick in – war time reminisces and horrors are recounted from the battle of Savestapol in the Crimean War – it’s a really moving piece of music, finishing up again with the slightly faster pace. All We Loved starts with a crackly record sample and an almost dancy drum beat overlaid with the guitar – the Two Birds of album title are introduced here, cleverly there’s some radio retuning sounds which then clear the sound deliciously. The story takes the singer back in time to an imaginary reaction to a devastating fire in Retford in the sixteenth century – concluding that people are more important than things – the song does have an ultimately optimistic feel.
Finally we come to The Grey, mandolin strumming starts it off delicately before the bass and drums, and then guitar to give it more oomph. The lyrics speak of ambtion, desire for progress and what sounds like a degree of success before tragedy strikes – the untimely death of Lady Mellish of Hodsock Priory – and what sounds like a pyrric victory in moving on despite never quite feeling the same about life. This one is ridiculously catchy once all the instruments kick in. I’d be interested to know the full story, a bit of internet research hasn’t pulled up much information!
So overall – a lovely collection of songs a long time in the making, there’s fun, sorrow, love and cutting observations aplenty in here crafted into a variety of paces, moods and styles. Pete’s vocals are excellent as is the quality of musicianship and overall production on the tracks, with influence from all the contributors stark throughout the journey – many have quite complex (to me at least, a musical numpty) arrangements of layers but it doesn’t overcomplicate or lead you away from the song.
I can’t help but feel that I want a lyric sheet (ooh, I just found the lyrics on his website!) to get further under the skin of these a bit more – but certainly this will be getting a lot more plays, and I am definitely going to have to be keeping an eye out for live performances too. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Pete play – now that is something missing from the website, live dates!
The album is launched on 1st July – you can buy it by checking out Pete’s website, and I really think that you should!