Tuesday, 25 September 2018
Jackie Leven - Shining Brother Shining Sister (2003)
Released February 2003
Recorded in Bethesda, Wales
This is a beguiling album from ex-Doll By Doll frontman Jackie Leven. It is is somewhat patchy but at times unnervingly brilliant. How did Jackie Leven not become huge?
"Classic Northern Diversions" is absolutely superb, from its initial shuffling train noises and subsequent similar chugging rhythm it is an evocative delight, with name checks for the great Northern cities/towns of Leeds, Sunderland and Huddersfield. It has moving lyrics too - "my mother is Heaven-bound, her body lies in unmarked ground...". It is a monster of a track , Leven's "Station To Station", complete with some Kraftwerk-esque rhythms. "Irresistible Romance" is another corker - an infectious, melodic slowish, soulful number with one of those wonderfully intoxicating vocals from Leven. "Dust Elegy" is a haunting instrumental interlude before the jazzy feel of "Savannah Waltz", which features some delicious piano.
A mournful trumpet introduces the wonderful "My Philosophy". Leven once again dominates the song with his sublime vocal, but the backing is subtly brilliant too - polished and immaculate. There are moments in this song when you just lose yourself and feel so moved by Leven's delivery and lyrics. It is a true masterpiece. It is also one of the only songs I know to mention London's Marylebone Station (a place I know well from my youth). Leven apparently spent time here down and out as a drug addict in the mid eighties, sadly only for years or so after his two superb Doll By Doll albums.
"Another Man In The Old Arcade" is another great track, with Leven channelling his inner Aaron Neville on some vibrato vocals. It has a sumptuous acoustic guitar solo in the middle too. "A Little Voice In Space" is a nine minute slow number, but it just washes over you in a comforting way. It contains some of Leven's poetry at the end, as does the previous track.
So far, the album has been a revelation. Here is where it gets a bit uneven, though. "Heroin Dealer Blues" is a song which morphs into a poem, unconvincingly. Similarly, "Faces" is a narrated poem with a bit of music in the background. After the glory of the first batch of songs, this material is not really to my taste. I can see why some like it, but it is not really for me. I prefer the songs. "Tied Up House" is a haunting return to song, however. "Bells Of Grey Crystal" is a short number that doesn't really get anywhere. "1798" is a captivating and mysterious ballad to end on. Overall, despite a few dips near the end, this is an excellent, highly recommended, interesting album.