Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Liz Jones & Broken Windows - Bricks & Martyrs

“Ready to order, sir?”
“Yes, I think so.  Let’s see – I think I’ll have the Van Morrison à la ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ to start.”
“Certainly sir.”
“Then for the main I’ll have the Songs About Those Puzzling, Appealing, Disappointing, Frustrating Things Called People.”
“An excellent choice sir.  And for the sauce?”
Liz Jones and John Bruce get serious
“Yes, the Lightly Smoked Female Vocals please.  And could I have some Rod Stewart and The Faces In Sensitive Mode on the side?”
“Of course, sir.  And would you prefer white or red with that?”
“Actually I’d prefer the Blues, if that’s okay?”
“You have marvellous taste sir, if I may say so.”

Which is one way of explaining what Bricks & Martyrs by Liz Jones & Broken Windows is all about.  And I could say that this musical bistro is worth at least one Michelin star, but that kind of elitist cuisine isn't how I roll.  This is tasteful stuff to be sure, but it’s still music with roots.
Enough of the food metaphor.  The opener ‘Before Me’ has a loping Latino rhythm, and sparkles of guitar interweaving with tinkling piano, over which Liz Jones’ warm voice delivers a lovelorn lyric set to a delightful, hooky melody.  And there’s more of that Latin feel on ‘Stain’, with Hispanic-tinged guitar from John Bruce, bendy bass from Rod Kennard, and warm piano chords from Jamie Hamilton that lift off into rippling syncopations, while Suzy Cargill’s bongos maintain a steady clip.
Over the piece, this is roots rock with subtlety.  ‘Jo’ rests on a simple motif akin to Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’, while Jones opens up with a low, resonant vocal, accompanied by conversational interpolations of guitar and organ, topped off with a sinuous slide guitar solo from Bruce.  ‘Candle’ strips things back further, with acoustic guitar and mandolin easing into a gentle, lilting, waltz time feel, some interesting chords getting stirred into the mix en route to a pinging guitar break that’s symptomatic of John Bruce always finding the right tones to fit the song.
The album pivots around ‘Lover’, on which more mandolin strumming from multi-instrumentalist Cargill is underlined by twangingly guitar notes before nudging into a lighter mood, with layered guitars proving depth.  Jones keeps her singing simple on another delicious melody, with a simple but definitive upward-flickering guitar line the killer touch. Shortly after, there’s the upbeat trio of ‘Wendy’, ‘Call Centre Blues’, and ‘Angel’.  The first of these is a late period Beatle-ish tune, maybe.  Maybe not.  Whatever, there’s lightly funky rhythm guitar, and sharp breaks from Bruce underpinned by grooving bass, while Gary Davidson keeps the drums simple and lets everyone slide perfectly into the pocket as they produce nifty little shifts in the backing.  “Whoo!’ Jones toots to herald some sharp lead guitar playing, and who can blame her – these peeps sound like they’re chilling out with smiles on their faces.  ‘Call Centre Blues’ is a loose and nimble protest about nuisance calls and their crap timing, with an arrangement assembled like a mechanism assembled by a master craftsman.  Then ‘Angel’ has Liz Jones thrilling convincingly about a dose of sexual attraction, over some gritty guitar, swinging bass, and Winwood-like organ from the guesting Ali Petrie.
And to finish they serve up the swaying, sensitive ‘On The Ride’, with Jones supplying a gorgeous vocal, enhanced by floating harmonies, over clicking bongos and sparse drums, embellished by piano from Jamie Hamilton that’s like a sun-dappled stream, eventually reaching the sea with an exquisite dying fall of an ending.
It occurs to me that I haven’t said enough about Liz Jones’ songwriting, or the suppleness of her voice.  These are the elements at the core of Bricks & Martyrs, but the whole is still greater than the sum of its parts.  This is an album in which all concerned seem to delight in what they’re conjuring up, in the most ego-free way, and it's captured by producer Jen Clarke with admirable clarity.
It so happens that Liz Jones & Broken Windows come from round my way.  It also so happens that Bricks & Martyrs is a classy collection of blues/Americana/folkie/jazzy roots music that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of that ilk that Britain has to offer.  I kid you not.  Do yourself a favour – give it a listen and make your own mind up.

Bricks & Martyrs is released independently on 29 October, and can be ordered here.

Check out the review of the debut album from Liz Jones & Broken Windows (plus some other stuff) here.

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