Music Reviews

Jesse Jackson – American Amalgamation


I’ve been waiting for a release from Jesse Jackson for six years; sure I’ve been fed titbits from My Space and You Tube, but I wanted the real deal, and finally it’s come…

Back in 2006 I spent Spring in Miami and went along to the annual Carnaval on the Mile – a celebration of music and art. On one of the smaller stages I came across Jesse Jackson; it was just him and two double bass players, or were they cellos? My memory plays tricks. Regardless, I remember thinking that the guy had a great sound. They were selling CDs for $10. But my money had been spent in the long nights of the bars and clubs of South Beach.

Back in England I did what anyone does: I Googled Jesse Jackson. There he was on My Space but no releases. The CD must have been a homemade affair. The songs I heard on My Space delighted me, and the performances on You Tube were cool. And then, in 2012, finally, a release of an eponymous titled album produced by Carlos Alvarez. So, was it worth the wait?

Jackson is a great singer/songwriter who is clearly steeped in the folklore and history of 20th Century American music. His songs cover the Americana from mid-west prairies country music to the dirty city streets of noir jazz and blues. What sets him apart, besides the great music, is a wonderful way with lyrics that makes him a cross between Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Cole Porter (This from Psalm: “It’s amazing that some people cling to Jesus/Like a baby and it’s mother’s breast, to which life’s theories are always pressed/It’s the way to get things off our chest and keep our wounds all neatly dressed/It’s a way to live with life’s behest, while death bestows it’s dark requests/So we tell ourselves that we feel blessed and we try to do our very best/ But it’s abandoning the nest that finally frees us”). He is no mere copyist though. He lets the influences move in him to create something of his own. He has a voice like a prairie dog howling with yearning at the voluptuous moon in a desert of red dust. If you admire any American music of the past hundred years then you will love this guy.

The album covers classic American topics: love, father/son relationships, addictions, alcohol, outlaws, adultery, celebration of life and even a hidden track that sounds like a long lost Dylan song that was recorded in some shotgun shack in the Mississippi Delta.

Jesse Jackson deserves to sell records. This release was worth waiting 6 years for – I just hope I don’t have to wait another 6 years before the next one…

Jesse Jackson’s album is available from iTunes and CD Baby.








This article first appeared in Louder Than War:





Short Stories

The Devil Came Up To Grimesford

She wasn’t much of an exotic dancer, our Betty; she waved her feathers about more like Ken Dodd than Gypsy Rose Lee, but you had to give her an ‘A’ for effort.

Everybody knew Betty from Gallagher’s fish market. She always wore a striped apron covered in fish scales like some battered mermaid. She wasn’t much to look at with her clothes on and there were no surprises when she struggled out of them. But the crowd at the WMC greeted her with rapturous applause – though I felt they were applauding her like a group of amateurs waiting for their turn on talent night, and expecting the same when they performed.

I would never have guessed that Betty harboured a desire to perform the burlesque, but then Grimesford was full of surprises after the Devil came visiting.

It was a Tuesday the Devil came. I remember that because my mother had sworn blind it was Pancake Day, but my Year of Religious Festivals Diary 2005 had it on the following Tuesday. She insisted on cooking pancakes anyway. The Devil didn’t appear in a flash of smoke and a rumble of thunder, it’s true, but in every other way he was the image of his medieval self. This was something of a surprise to the market day shoppers as they paused between purchases of reduced sweaters and second hand Jeffrey Archer’s.

These days we’ve got a little too savvy and I guess we expected the Devil (not that we did expect him, mind) to appear as some smarmy spin doctor, so when he appeared sporting horns, a pointed tail and cloven hooves you could perhaps forgive us for thinking he was double bluffing us.

Grimesford folk weren’t much for the ostentatious so they gave him a cursory look and continued with their shopping as though that sort of thing happened every week. The Devil, not overly used to being ignored, gave a booming laugh and summoned up a rather nice looking ionic temple that he placed between the Mecca Bingo Hall and Fred’s Hardware Emporium. He stepped inside and put an open sign on the door.

That night at the WMC the men sat supping their bitters and the women their port and lemons and the talk came round to the Devil’s open sign. Some folk said they hadn’t even noticed him and his bloody temple, whilst others admitted seeing him but of course weren’t at all interested in what he was up to. The talk might easily have moved on to Mrs Benjamin’s ongoing verruca problem, if the Rev. Lucas hadn’t crashed through the doors on a Triumph Bonneville 650 that he preceded to screech round the club, before zooming up an overturned table and landing pin-point on the stage. He leapt from the bike and flicked his greying hair from his stigmatised eyes. ‘Great!’ he declared.

We were just about to return to our beers and verruca talk when the Rev. clapped his hands; he had, he said, an announcement to make. Now, we Grimesford folk are decent folk by and by and we do our bit for the church, but the WMC is something of a refuge from all things political and religious: sport, health and weather were the topics and leave it at that, so when the Rev. began sermonising we were a little put out.

He said that he understood our fears about the Devil arriving in Grimesford and was sure we were interested in what he had to say about it, but he’d been busy all afternoon trying to explain to one of his flock why Shrove Tuesday fell on a different day each year; once he’d sorted that matter out he had paid a visit to Mr Devil.

The Rev. had sampled the Devil’s angels cakes, which were wickedly good, and they had chatted about cricket for a while, but when the Devil declared he had come to Grimesford to fulfil everybody’s secret desire the Rev. was of course on his guard. But there was no contract to sign. No soul to promise. No lost eternity. The Devil would give and expect nothing in return. He was involved, he said, in a little experiment on God’s behalf. He would stay for a month and then be gone.

The WMC gave the good Rev. a hearing and then looked disdainfully away as he imitated Evel Knievel and jumped 10 kegs of beer before exiting on one wheel. Turns out the vicar had a penchant for fast and dirty bikes.

Next day I called on Bob 11 o’clock sharp. Wednesday we always went for a bowl and then a pint. But he wasn’t in. Never in five years had Bob missed the green with me. I made my way into town to see if he was already on the green but was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a queue at the Devil’s temple. It looked as if the whole village was there, patiently waiting and chatting in hushed tones with each other.

The Rev. screeched to a halt in front of me and revved his engine. ‘Barry, what you gonna get, you think?’ he asked.

I shrugged. I frowned. What was it I wanted? What desire lurked in my heart that the Devil could give me? I walked home wondering why I didn’t have a list the size of my arm.

Over the next few days Grimesford began to resemble a crazy holiday camp: Mrs Cartwright began to perform heavy metal guitar solos from her wheelchair; Mr Cartwright was a wonderful fire eater; Mavis from the corner shop sold goods wearing McQueen in the morning and Armani in the afternoon; her daughter became captain of the school soccer team; Ishana, the schoolteacher, danced Swan Lake; Trevor, the macho mechanic, became an effete Shakespearean actor; Phyllis the barmaid took up the decathlon even with her dodgy knees; George the barman became a teetotal cowboy herding sheep; and we know what Betty did.

But there was no Bob. I asked around but nobody had seen him.

Folk kept asking what I had been given. I was rather embarrassed to tell them I hadn’t been to see him yet. I sensed people began to think me arrogant for not giving in to my secret pleasures. So I fretted for a day or two and, on Ash Wednesday, determined to visit the Devil. But when I opened my door there he was in all his demonic red glory. He asked if he could come in and I obliged. I offered him tea and he took it black with lemon. He was pleasant enough but he did make the place smell a little like the morning after Bonfire Night.

We supped tea and talked of small things. Eventually he put down his cup and frowned, muttering that there was always one he had trouble with. I asked him what he meant, and he said that he was having trouble ‘reading’ me. He could sense problems with me but no desire. Nothing that he could satisfy anyway. I was the last resident of Grimesford to be helped.

I apologised to him. I meant it – it worried me that I had no dream. To cover my embarrassment I asked about Bob. Ah, Bob, he said with a grin. I’m afraid he won’t be bowling with you for a while. Then he asked me to escort him to the graveyard.

In the cemetery, where Sam the gravedigger was busy putting the finishing touches to a marble statue of himself, the Devil led me to a stone that bore two names: Beverley, mother and wife, and Mandy, daughter. Died the same day. In a car crash. Six years ago.

The Devil and I bowed our heads in thought. I knew what Bob’s desire was – to have his wife and daughter back.

‘Do you have anyone here?’ the Devil asked.

I led him over to Alison’s grave. My dear Alison, taken almost ten years ago. My wife. My love. My desire.

‘I still don’t really understand death,’ said the Devil.

‘Nor I,’ I said.

The Devil told me it wasn’t in his power to raise the dead, or heal the sick, just to grant what desire he could in whatever way he could. He pulled out a photograph and showed it to me. It was Bob with his arms around Beverley and Mandy.

‘Bob,’ said the Devil.

I looked again at the photograph. It was Beverley and Mandy seven years ago, but it was Bob as he was now.

The Devil explained that he couldn’t bring Bob’s loved ones back, but he could freeze Bob in time with them. Bob re-lived the freeze frame forever. Forever he held them and all three smiled. Forever he forgot and lived it again.

I thought about the pictures I had of Alison. Thought about her beautiful smile.

The Devil left me with my thoughts.

I knew it was a limited offer. The sign on the temple declared the Devil was open for business for 40 days and 40 nights.

That night I lay in bed thinking of Alison. Every night I lay in bed thinking about Alison, but that night was different; I wondered what it would be like to have my arm around her forever. I remembered what it was like to touch her. To smell her. To feel her. What would she want me to do? What would she do if the situation was reversed?

I slept little and what sleep I got was seasoned with tears.

In the morning I went to the Devil’s temple. He had only just risen and let me share in his breakfast of marmalade and toast. The marmalade was nice but he told me that he’d made the toast by sticking the bread near some burning souls and, though he laughed, I wasn’t sure he was joking. He knew why I’d come so we got down to it.

I asked to see the picture of Bob again and pointed out that as he was looking straight at the camera he couldn’t see his wife and child and wouldn’t see them for eternity. The Devil agreed with that but said it wasn’t a problem putting me in a photo looking at my wife. But I told him that Alison was dead; the photo was just an image, a shadow of her. It wasn’t even a memory that was alive and vibrant – it was two-dimensional.

Alison was dead. I repeated it. It had been a long time since I’d said those words and maybe I’d forgotten the naked truth of it. But she was dead.

I told the Devil that the one thing I wanted he couldn’t give me. He could make me into a great cricketer but I would always be making runs alone. And that was fine, I realised now. You still had to get up in the morning and cook meals and go to work. You have to live in this life and hope, just hope, that you can meet the love of your life again somewhere else. Somewhere other.

The Devil sighed and said, ‘There’s always one.’ He told me that every seven years he has a bet with God that he can seduce a whole town by fulfilling all their secret desires, within limits, and God smiles and says that there will always be one.

When the Devil left so did the talents: the actor returned to the garage; the cowboy hung up his hat. At first people were resentful of me for spoiling their fun, but gradually the town returned to normal.

But sometimes when I buy my fish, Betty turns salmon pink and looks away and I wonder what it is like to see deep into the heart; really deep into the heart.

Music Reviews

Hugh Cornwell – Totem and Taboo

Incredibly, it’s been 22 years since Hugh Cornwell left The Stranglers. With his former band he released 10 studio albums in 14 years, with Totem and Taboo he is releasing his ninth solo album.

Hugh has always been an intellectual, often ignored in his punk roots, and has an urbanity and eccentricity about him akin to David Byrne, so it’s no surprise that Totem and Taboo is a reference to a collection of essays by Sigmund Freud. Cornwell appears to be saying that he walks a different walk, that he sees things differently, that what he enjoys we would revile at. With such a strong claim one might expect the music to be difficult and experimental, but the sound is classic guitar, bass and drums. It has the sound of a 60s band; the bass is, at times, as rumbling as anything JJ Burnel ever put down between grooves and Hugh’s guitar work has always been interesting and individual.  In keeping with the 60s sound, ‘Stuck in Daily Mail Land’ sounds like a Ray Davies number and ‘God is a Woman’ has a bass line straight from Cream’s ‘Badge’.

Cornwell’s song writing has often revolved around well known phrases and this album is no different, with song titles like: ‘I Want One of Those’, ‘Bad Vibrations’, ‘Love Me Slender’ and ‘In the Dead of the Night’. But where once his lyrics were mysterious and open to interpretation, now they all too often banal; take this from The Face: “Amongst the faithful there was Paul/he shook my hand in the hall”.

There are great songs on here, though. ‘I Want One Of Those’ and ‘Stuck in Daily Mail Land’ may be attacking easy targets, but they are great numbers. Similarly, ‘Bad Vibrations’ and ‘A Street Called Carroll’ are great little rockers.

In ‘Gods, Gays and Guns’ things get a little odd as Cornwell implies that all of European history revolves around the trinity of the title. With ‘God is a Woman’ I wonder if Cornwell is finally burying the charge of sexism that always lingered around The Stranglers like the smell of rohypnol, but this is followed by ‘Love Me Slender’.

I always defended The Stranglers against charges of sexism (it was reportage, it was tongue-in-cheek) but can’t defend ‘Love Me Slender’. As the title suggests it is a song about how slim girls are more attractive than larger girls: “I like the way you look/the diet that you took” and “you really do look great/now you’ve lost that extra weight” and “Rubens was a fool/to think he held the jewel/when tubby was the rule”.

The fascistic nature of the beauty media does not need any more promotion, especially from somebody who is admired by so many.

Thankfully, the album ends on a high note. ‘In the Dead of Night’ is easily the best track on Totem and Taboo. It’s 10 minutes of steamy music noir that prowls the sidewalks of a rain drenched city nitescape. It is the memories that haunt us, the wistfulness, the melancholy, the longing in the dead of the night. I think it’s the best thing he’s written since ‘Lay Back On Me Pal’ and ‘The Big Sleep’ (both from 2000s Hi Fi).

This is a good album. But, maybe because I’m a long time fan, I want something more. The catalyst for Cornwell leaving The Stranglers was watching Devon Malcolm bat with abandon in a Test Match and I wonder if Cornwell needs another epiphany to discover how far he can really take his music.

Totem and Taboo was recorded at Electrical Audio, Chicago, and produced by Steve Albini. It is available through Pledge Music. The official release date will be in September.

Hugh Cornwell: Stuck in Daily Mail Land on YouTube:


This article first appeared on Louder Than War: