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Jason Mcniff - Joy and Independence

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 13 / 10 / 2018

Jason Mcniff - Joy and Independence
Label: At the Helm Records
Format: CD


Stripped-down sixth album from London-based but Bradford-raised troubadour Jason McNiff which shows him at his very best

For those of a certain age listening to the sixth album from London-based guitarist singer-songwriter Jason McNiff will be like taking a trip down memory lane. The eleven original songs are stripped-back affairs; in the main part just one voice and an acoustic guitar captured intimately in the studio but recalling those golden times when you’d be mesmerized by the sole figure playing guitar in the corner of a coffee house. But Jason McNiff is no ordinary troubadour. Following on from the recent double compilation of his work, ‘Rain Dries Your Eyes’ (from which one song, ‘Stuck in the Past’, is given another lease of life here) McNiff’s latest album does little to shake off those Dylan or John Prine comparisons that often crop up in reviews of his work. McNiff’s inviting vocals contribute greatly to his appeal though and are the perfect vehicle for the fascinating stories he sets into song. While there is little point in denying that McNiff does recall both the above-mentioned musicians throughout this album, let’s throw another name in just for the hell of it. Time and again, not just in his vocals but in his storytelling and the way McNiff pulls the listener into his tales, Chuck Brodsky comes to mind especially on the opening title track. And that’s no bad thing. But’s it’s not just McNiff’s appealing vocals or his ability to fit a whole story into a five-minute song which sets him apart from the crowd; his guitar skills are pretty impressive as well. Even though songs such as ‘And the Sun Comes Up On My Dreams’ (you know some of these songs are going to be special just by the title) are just one man and his acoustic the sound is still strangely full; McNiff’s guitar is all that’s needed to flesh out the story. There really is no need for any studio trickery or any other sound. To add anything more to that combination of voice and guitar would render the tale less affecting. When it comes to McNiff less really is more. The listener gets the feeling that there’s a lot of Jason McNiff scattered throughout these songs. At times it feels like a mini-travelogue, McNiff taking a quick glance over his shoulder to places and people that have touched him in the past. ‘Midnight Shift’ actually confirms this; the short, opening monologue recollects McNiff’s time playing the 12 Bar Club in London. Once again McNiff’s guitar playing is exceptional and carries through the emotion in his vocals. While the melodies that McNiff wraps his tales in are never less than captivating, ‘Thoughts’, which features stunning vocals from Lily Ramona, shows that McNiff can step outside of the generally accepted singer-songwriter mould and pen a tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on daytime radio. There’s a country/pop lilt to the track which comes as a surprise and which works extremely well. While it can hardly be said that McNiff’s songs are not immediately accessible, this particular song will appeal to those who are not usually attracted to the genre that McNiff inhabits. ‘Stuck in the Past’ is a highlight in an album scattered with little gems. The addition of piano from Sean Read, who co-produced the album with McNiff, towards the end of the song really does take the song up to another level even though McNiff has captured the listener from the very first lines, “While standing on the corner/Just arrived in London town/Couple of phone numbers and a dream that I wouldn’t put down”. ‘Amanda’ is McNiff’s sympathetic re-telling of the Amanda Knox story and it once again proves that he is worthy of being compared to the singer-songwriters from the golden era. The way McNiff sings the refrain of “Amanda you were innocent then/ You’re not so innocent now” is a spine-chilling moment. McNiff’s fans will already have this album. For those yet to hear this remarkable singer/songwriter ‘Joy And Independence’ is a good place to start, then work backwards making sure you take in the ‘Rain Dries Your Eyes’ compilation for further proof that you need to check out all of his albums.

Track Listing:-
1 Joy and Independence
2 Wind of Zaragoza
3 And the Sun Comes up on My Dreams
4 Stuck in the Past
5 Amanda
6 Thoughts
7 Midnight Shift
8 Italy
9 (There Are No) Ordinary Days
10 Been a Bad Day
11 Dream of a Highway

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Rain Dries Your Eyes (2017)
Pleasing double CD compilation from English folk and Americana-influenced artist Jason McNiff
Another Man (2006)
Nobodys Son (2003)

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