Album Reviews

Jonny – Jonny

(Turnstile) UK release date: 31 January 2011

This collaborative project between Euros Childs (formally of endearing Welsh wizards Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci) and Norman Blake (from Scottish guitar pop legends Teenage Fanclub) first emerged at the tail end of 2010. The group’s first EP, none of which is duplicated on this full length album, seemed appropriately whimsical, a particular highlight being Norman Blake’s wonderful paen to Gloria Estefan. In fact, the musical relationship between Childs and Blake goes back further than this, Gorky’s and the Fanclub having toured together in 1997 and with Blake having contributed to the penultimate Gorky’s album (How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart).

Perhaps simultaneously the most uplifting and most disappointing aspect of this project is how predictable it is. It sounds exactly as one might imagine a Norman Blake/Euros Childs collaboration might sound. Childs has abandoned most of his flirtations with low budget synth pop, returning to the delightfully simple, sometimes scuzzy or ragged psychedelic pop on which Gorky’s thrived. Blake might actually be the lesser voice here, but his songs for Jonny are, if anything, even more nimble and fleet footed than his recent contributions for Teenage Fanclub (Circling the Sun is particularly charming). His familiar vocal harmonies add a sense of warmth, comfort and homeliness to proceedings. Whilst the Fanclub’s most recent albums have found them growing older gracefully, Jonny is decidedly quirky and almost intentionally lightweight.

The project seems to have freed both musicians from any contextual or historical burdens and has left them to arrive at a combined musical voice that is natural and immediately identifiable. The songs veer from familiar romantic melancholy (Circling The Sun) to the effervescent and humorous (the likeable wordplay of Wich Is Wich), but all sound like the characteristic work of these two highly talented songwriters. Both Childs and Blake are unafraid of simplicity. The songs here (with the notable exception of Cave Dance) breeze by effortlessly, never outstaying their welcome, and always blessed with direct, canny hooks of the kind that sound easy both to write and perform, but are actually only reached by the most assured and confident of writers.

There are some minor limitations, however. A preference for plinky plonky piano playing amplifies the tweeness of some of the material (especially on Childs’ English Lady and Bread). Sometimes the songs with delicate acoustic flutterings or driving, powerful electric guitars fare a little better. The epic Cave Dance, with its various twists and turns and sly hints at Krautrock, provides the one sign of an ambition to break free from a direct vaguely psychedelic pop template. Still, these songs are all in a delightfully and distinctively British folk and pop traditiion, and suggest that these two masters of their craft have been remarkably undervalued commercially, if less so critically.

Given how good natured and generous the Jonny project appears to be, it’s alarmingly easy to imagine one of the sillier songs here becoming some sort of novelty hit along the lines of Babybird‘s You’re Gorgeous. Such a turn of events would no doubt be strange so late into Blake’s career. Speculation aside, the music that Childs and Blake have produced here is gentle, unassuming and good humoured. It won’t change the world, but it will warm the hearts of those fortunate enough to hear it.

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Jonny – Jonny