The Jackie Leven reissue programme is building up a fair head of steam and the latest twofer comprises 2001’s Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere and 2004’s Barefoot Days. The former was originally released through the late, lamented Haunted Valley website, while the latter has only previously been available as an official bootleg.
Both albums mix up specially recorded studio tracks with highlights from Leven’s entertaining live shows. Barefoot Days opens with the studio-recorded title track. It is a welcome addition to the Leven cannon, a sweeping ballad about death stalking us as we go about our lives that manages to be both affecting and sombre in equal measure. Typical Leven in fact; the man is a criminally overlooked songwriter.
The live section of the album was recorded at Greys in Brighton and comprises a typical Leven set. Namely, some witty tall and not so tall tales from his years on the road interspersed with some choice selections from his back catalogue. Best of the anecdotes concerns an accidental meeting with Joni Mitchell during a drunken night out, while the musical highlights include a stately reading of Desolation Blues and the keenly observed story songs Stopped By Woods On A Snowy Evening and Washing By Hand.
Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere starts with two studio tracks. The heartfelt Rain Of Kathleen showcases some excellent picking from Leven and leads naturally into his fine reading of the traditional Nottamun Town.
The live segment of the album comprises a more complete set than Barefoot Days, giving a more accurate representation of a typical Leven show. Recorded around the time of Defending Ancient Springs, Leven performs a smattering of tracks from that album, including the brilliant Single Father and Working Man’s Love Song, while Paris Blues/Down By The River features a guest spoken word/vocal appearance from regular collaborator David Thomas.
Elsewhere, Leven alternates between choice highlights from his earlier albums (notably Marble City Bar) and some previously unreleased material. The general flow of the record is less convincing than Barefoot Days. This, admittedly, is more representative of a Leven live show, where bathos and pathos lurch unsteadily along next to each other and nothing sounds very planned.
Of course, this is why Leven is such a live draw. Forget carefully choreographed stage acts and dead-eyed performances of the latest hit. Leven is a living, breathing representation of the human condition in all its flawed beauty. Long may he live.