Jackie Leven is the closest the UK is everlikely to get to Johnny Cash, and if youhaven’t fallen prey to his charms yet, it’s about timeyou did. He’s the sound of dark folk clubs, the finalmeasure of whiskey in the bottom of the bottle as thedoor closes on the last vestige of hope.
He might not be an oil painting, but his careerhas left a trail of under-appreciated, under-ratedgems, from Celt punks Doll By Doll, through avicious street attack that nearly left him unable tospeak, to heroin addiction, to a solo career that hasbeen ludicrously prolific even without the manyadditional fan club-only releases.
There are no surprises on Lovers At The Gun Club,Leven’s 14th official solo studio release, but whenyou’ve got a following as loyal as his, there’s noreason for any. He’s found his formula and what hedoes (dark, gravely, dirty folk) he does very, verywell.
Recorded in Snowdonia rather than his nativeScotland, this would be a fabulous album to listen toin the wilderness of any country. Vocals on the titletrack are sung by his ‘absinthe-drinking pal’ JohnnyO’Dowd, who also helps out on Dent In The Fender AndThe Wheel Of Fate; Leven describes the opening song as’a psychosexual voodoo redneck tale’ – a descriptionthat would carry well over the whole album.
What follows is truly beautiful collection ofsongs, with Dent In The Fender… sparkling evenbrighter than normal amid the rough diamonds. Languidand dark, suffused with midnight weariness butimpossible to ignore, it’s the type of music thatmight fool you into thinking it can be put on in thebackground but, once it’s there, will grab yourattention and refuse to let go.
Tracks such as My Old Home should be all you needin life, if you’ve got any soul at all, while thedelicate fragility of Woman In A Car defies anyone notto fall in love with it.
Long since freed from the need to make music foranyone other than himself and the loyal band offollowers who want exactly what he’s peddling, Levenis free to indulge himself in such personal projectsas To Whom It May Concern, a setting to music of thewords of the late American beat poet Kenneth Patchen.He then hands the final track of the album over toanother friend, David Childers, as a sampler ofChilders’ own album, Called Or Not Called, The GodsAre Present.
All in all, the themes of Lovers At The Gun Clubseem overtly American at times, swimming with US folkinfluences from the style of the music to the themesof the songs, despite references to such unmistakeableBritishness as Somerfield carrier bags and Sunderlandfans. This enhances rather than diminishes it, though,enabling Lovers At The Gun Club to be held up andmeasured against the hardest, roughest-edged folkblues and heartfelt alt.folk you can name. Don’tworry: it more than holds its own.