Jackie Leven is prolific but not quite this prolific. This new album comprises two old live releases previously issued through the Haunted Valley website, which has been doing sterling service for fans of the Scottish singer-songwriter since the late ’90s. Best by far is Man Bleeds In Glasgow, a 1998 release that pairs Leven with The Celtic Soulmen, aka Michael Cosgrave and virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Steáfán Hannigan.
Leven is a fine live act, his songs better suited to the stripped down interpretations that he performs on stage. The rather bland production style that occasionally mars his studio albums is absent on versions of songs such as Farm Boy, Man Bleeds In Glasgow and Night Lillies, all of which benefit greatly from the bare-face nakedness of their live readings and give Leven’s rich Scottish soul vocals the space in which to shine.
Part of the Leven live experience is the natural on-stage banter that punctuates the performance. Here we have welcome stabs at left-leaning music journalists (God forbid I should use the words ‘eschew’ and ‘boast’ in this review) and CNN, and larger than life tales from the pub and bedroom (in that order).
Man Bleeds In Glasgow is largely drawn from the same year’s Night Lillies, one of Leven’s best solo albums, but also casts the net further back to his early solo releases, including the cast-iron classic Call Mother A Lonely Field that closes the album in fine style.
The second half of this double CD, Greetings From Milford, was recorded at the 1999 Haunted Valley Christmas Party, and features The Stornoway Girls (actually singer-songwriter Kevin Hewick, Dan Britton and Lee Allotson).
Greetings From Milford reveals Leven as a fine interpreter of other artists’ songs, including a stately reading of Pale Blue Eyes and an energetic thrash through Waiting For My Man (it’s always nice to hear Leven breaking out into devil-may-care rocker mode, rare occurrence though it is these days).
Leven also has the chutzpah to attempt Van Morrison‘s Madam George, which surely must rank high in the list of uncoverable songs. To his credit he manages to bring something new to this hoary old classic.
The album also includes a smattering of Leven originals, most pleasingly a closing take on Doll By Doll‘s Main Travelled Roads. Hearing this song provides a timely reminder of how long Leven has been one of the UK’s leading songwriters, albeit one who has had to live with a cult following for his whole career.
The final word must go to the man himself. ‘Genius or nutter, you decide’. Leven’s neither actually, just another one of our neglected national treasures who is quite happy to continue writing and performing at his own pace. Long may he continue.