“Growing Old – Songs From My Front Porch” evoked two things to me, just from the title alone.
First, it seemed reflective, and second it seemed as intimate as one of the house gigs John Jenkins often plays.
Time and time again the characters are living with their regrets. Whether it’s the ageing process in the title track: “Whatever happened to the youthful me?” he asks himself in the second line here, “A shadow of the man I used to be” he says by the fourth. And yet there’s an acceptance too. “I can’t fight it, it makes me frightened.”
The whole record seems to be framed by that thought. Facing up to what scares you. Dealing with what you can’t change.
Jenkins is a “songwriters songwriter” if you will, a favourite of John Peel he is often seen with his James Street Band, having been in bands like The Persuaders and Come in Tokio, and appearing with the likes of Elvis Costello and Echo And The Bunnymen. That lifetime of skill, craft and ability is all over this.
As someone who loves words and their use, their imagery, there is so much to get stuck into here. “Daniel White” has a quite stunning phrase. “His single bed is no larger than a tomb” he sings, as the acoustic, fragile accompaniment is perfect. Even here, though, the character is looking back: “if only people could see, the man he used to be…..”
“Heartlands” – as with a lot of music from the city of Liverpool, naturally I suppose – has a real Celtic folk feel, and “A Mothers Devotion” is such lovely, shimmering Americana, that there are bands all over the Heartland who would be proud to call it their own.
Except, this is resolutely Liverpudlian. Jenkins sings in his own voice, a thing sure to get bonus points on these pages and so it does here. “The Mountain Between Us” is a duet with Sibohan Maher-Kennedy and the dynamic between the two is beautiful, and the more country, if you will, “Bear Lake County” has superb harmonies and its violins from Amy Chambers give it a real mournful air.
On his website it talks about playing with the brilliant Dean Owens, and you can see the synergy between the two. The class, the use of words, the dark, yet stoic melancholy, and the idea – that especially here for Jenkins – there is a real catharsis. The Harmonica link on “Dying By Inches” seem to match the misery in the words. “I think of these people,” he sings here, “who came to this port, with the belief they’d find hope and liberty.” Maybe he’s singing about the people so betrayed by the Windrush scandal, the truth is I don’t know, but I guess songs can mean whatever you want them to? Certainly when they are this good, they can.
“Jackson Farm” starts in the rain, with the guitar perhaps as a beacon of sunshine, “A Wiser Man Than Me” – again there is talk here about “being a memory of the man I used to be – as if he is searching still for answers – has some percussion from Jon Lawton, which takes it somewhere else altogether.
“I Am Almost Over You” sounds to me like a British Elliot Smith, and it also sounds like he is never going to get over her, no matter: “good times stand for something” he suggests, “but good times seldom stay” and if “I’m Coming Home” is troubadour stuff in the classic mould, then the details, the small little things, suggest surely that this is personal, and “The Last Song” goes back again to the overt folk with its flute intro.
On that one he tells us everything: “I feel like I’ve been singing all my life. Lonely, so lonely.”
Then there’s a bonus track which suggests that wherever else he’s looking for a connection it isn’t online: After suggesting that: “Spotify just played my song, another million hits and I can get a taxi home”, comes this gem: “My Facebook page is getting on my tits, but you know what, I don’t care anymore…..”
But he does. You know he does. That’s the point, and that’s why, “I Just Don’t Care” sounds like the happiest song here. Because he can’t give up, even if he wanted to. This 45 minutes is all you need to know about john Jenkins. These songs aren’t in from his front-porch at all. This music is from his heart, its in his blood.