Tonight We Ride
A Clever Left of Centre Selection of Re-Imagined Songs That Influenced This Talented Singer-Songwriter.
As most of you will know by now; I trust my own judgement about music over everyone else’s; hence the website’s Mantra …. that ‘all albums are listened to from start to finish several times before putting pen to paper’ …. but last week I stumbled on a review of this album by someone I admire.
To say I was both shocked and disappointed at their words would be an understatement; but then I got to thinking; had they actually ‘listened’ to the songs at all …. or; God Forbid …. just looked at the track titles (it is a covers album after all) and wrote the script from that?
Sadly it wouldn’t be the first time that happened … trust me!
I on the other hand have played this 5 times before today; in a variety of circumstances and ….. Jason McNiff has exemplary taste in music and I can now see where his ‘style’ has evolved from.
Bert Jansch’s Running From Home is a spectacularly odd choice to start the album; as sadly Jansch and his catalogue have nearly disappeared from view in 2022; but as a young man, Jason sat at the feet of Jansch in the mid 1990’s learning from the Master; and here pays homage by taking a gruff old Folk song; dusting it down; slightly re-arranging it to suit his own voice and (if I’m not mistaken) has increased the tempo a touch; which really showcases his own stunning technique on the acoustic guitar.
This then virtually bleeds into a left of centre Townes Van Zandt song; My Proud Mountains.
Not an obvious choice; but a clever one as Jason again re-arranges it until it sounds very little like the original; but now a contemporary Americana tale for a completely new audience.
That’s actually why I really like this album; it’s the way this young Yorkshire man has taken some wonderful songs from across a variety of singer-songwriter idioms and made them more suited to the 21st Century.
I’ve always raised my eyebrows when either songwriters or music fans say proudly like they ‘only like one particular type of music’ …. I can’t think of anything sadder!
McNiff has selected a wide range of songwriters to cover here; and really does justice to Bob Dylan’s One Too Many Mornings and another song of his that I wasn’t aware of; Precious Angel as he also does with Dear Leonard’s gentle Moving On; which I too have always been fond of.
As with the Townes song; McNiff never takes the obvious route ….. there’s a Beatles song here; Tomorrow Never Knows, which now becomes a Modern Folk song and a million miles away from the original; as is his rendition of the Dire Straits multi-platinum hit single; Tunnel of Love which tooK me two plays for the penny to drop as to what it was! It was only while playing this version that I remembered what a great yet underappreciated songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler was and is.
Perhaps my friend who wrote the other review thought Jason was being vain including two of his own creations here; but why the Hell not? Especially as Shadow Ships of Dartford sits in especially well; with its’ hints of Van Zandt and Jansch in every line.
I Remember You, features some stunning guitar playing; perhaps the best here; and the story could easily be another Dylan B-Side from the 70’s.
This now brings me to the search for a single Favourite Track ….. yegads, that’s not been easy. I was instantly drawn to the relaxed; yet still passionate rendition of Tom Russell’s ‘signature tune’ Tonight We Ride; it’s been a Top 10 song of mine for many years, and young Jason really does it justice in the way he sings the chorus while adding his own signature Country-Folk guitar picking to proceedings.
Then of course there’s another forgotten Modern Classic, The Waterboy’s Fisherman’s Blues which now sounds as if it was written and recorded somewhere South of the Mississippi by a third generation immigrant.
But there is one other; and possibly because it’s a case of ‘right place/right time’ Stephen Foster’s Hard Times, which we would normally associate with Woody Guthrie; and here Jason takes that pathos, doubles it and via his lovely breathy voice; now lets it loose on an unsuspecting but hopefully grateful nation.
Hence this be my Favourite Song on a really special album.
Released 24th June 2022
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