JON BODEN - Painted Lady

JON BODEN - Painted Lady
Soundpost Records SOPO5001

For those who find the pomp, triumphalism and celebratory atmosphere of Bellowhead a bit too jolly to bear, the prolific Jon Boden gives us 'Painted Lady'; a way for miserable people to enjoy his undeniable charisma too.

A darkly romantic and happily flawed record, 'Painted Lady' is more soulful, sinister and understated than Boden's recent big band antics. With his metaphoric landscape of "cigarettes, broken hearts and pink champagne" Boden is still all shabby chic and doomed love, but don't expect a folksy walk in the park. It's a claustrophobic album, characterised and coloured by the unusual use of Indian Harmonium, and Boden dusts off the electric guitar from his youth, splintering shards of angular rock across what is an almost entirely self-penned album.

People will argue whether it's a folk album at all, but if it is, it's certainly the least contrived, naturally sounding marriage of rock and folk for years. Opening track 'Get A Little Something' is the album in microcosm. It bears his triumphalist hallmarks, but the music is sufficiently dark and foreboding enough to provide the antidote, resulting in the bitter/sweet perfection that defines most great music. If you're familiar with Nottingham band Tindersticks, you'll recognise that smoky, sultry, prickly, folk-blues narrative (I'm sure Tom Waits and Nick Cave will be mentioned too, but Boden doesn't have those kind of balls, yet!).

The rest of the album is a game of two halves. One features unusual, off-kilter pieces; including 'Drunken Princess' and 'Broken Things'; that become more gratifying and distinctly original with each listen. The other half is mystifying; a lightweight collection of wet love songs; 'Blue Dress', 'Josephine', 'True Love'; that sound like they were written in teenage years and shouldn't have made it past a sixth form band demo. In these moments, his limited voice does not lend itself to the tenderness and restraint required, and the seemingly commercial ambition of these easy listening songs betrays Jon's own description of his album as "lo-fi". But the good out-weighs the bad by some margin, and the deliciously skewed title-track is worth the asking price alone.

Boden plays every instrument on the album, which although impressive, occasionally shows in moments of ropey timing - a common symptom of recording one instrument at a time. In fact the rough'n'ready feel of the album gives the impression that it might have been written and recorded on a single wet autumn weekend. This makes for hit and miss results, but it's Boden's prolific energy that is so compelling. In the last three years, while Jim Moray (Jon's only peer and contender for the English-folk-scene-splitting twin mantles of either Prince of Folk or Mr Arrogant!) spent three precious years tinkering with his over-blown opus, Boden has knocked out four albums and in the process re-written and re-defined the rules and boundaries of the male folk genre. Jim should be a bit less precious, Jon should probably be a bit more precious, but it's all great fun to watch, and tremendously healthy for folk music.

Adrian McNally

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This album was reviewed in Issue 69 of The Living Tradition magazine.