This one features Tattered & Torn from the new Tilston & Lowe CD The Janus Game.
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STEVE TILSTON & JEZ LOWE: THE JANUS GAME
Songwriting partnerships are nothing new in folk music. By dint of its innate openness and a strong sense of democracy amongst its practitioners, the genre lends itself to collaboration. But when two artists as singular and well-respected as Steve Tilston and Jez Lowe get together to co-write after forty-odd years of ploughing their own distinctive furrows, it is definitely worth sitting up and listening.
These two well-travelled veterans of the folk music scene have still got a great deal to say and can still say it with style. That they have chosen to say it together, for this album at least, is something we should all be grateful for.
Read the full review here
When Yorkshire-based singer-songwriter Steve Tilston met north-easterner Jez Lowe in a Massachusetts music club five years ago, a special collaboration was born. While Tilston has tended to plough a lone furrow throughout his highly respected career, multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Lowe has contributed to many collective projects not least The Broonzies and The Pitmen Poets, all the while maintaining his own long-established band, The Bad Pennies.
The title of The Janus Game is taken from the ancient Roman god of beginnings, transitions, doorways and endings, who is usually depicted as having two faces on the same body, but pointing in different directions, as he looks both to the past and the future. The duo see their own music as doing the same, taking the best aspects of the past, i.e. the folk tradition, but letting new ideas develop in contemporary subject matter, musical direction and arrangements.
So here are presented eleven fine original tracks in that vein, with subject matter ranging from child refugees (Lucky Sami, a serious message wrapped up in a charming arrangement and featuring some atmospheric bowed guitar from Tilston) to the decline of the steel industry (The Wagga Moon, a catchy mandolin-led foot-tapper). Personal narratives are very prominent too. Shiney Row for example, nostalgically portrays life in a small town close to where Lowe was brought up, while On Beacon Hill relates to two commonly named features in the East Midlands and County Durham respectively, Tilston’s ten-string guitar somehow adding to a sense of history.
The Strings That Wizz Once Strummed is a delightful and fond salute to Wizz Jones, a strong influence on both, told through a story of a revered guitar untouched since it was once played by the great man. The final track Goodbye Johnnie D’s/Hey Frankie is a lively tune-cum-song by way of musical thanks to the now closed music club (Johnnie D’s) and house (Frankie’s) where the pair first played together.
Both Tilston and Lowe are musicians’ musicians who don’t get the wider recognition they work hard to merit although all the while those in the know revere and respect them highly. Hopefully The Janus Game will bring their respective talents to a wider audience, while also gaining deserved praise in its own right.
Unexpected collaborations are among the great strengths of the current British folk scene, and this is one of the most intriguing to date. Steve Tilston and Jez Lowe are long-established soloists, respected for their skills as singer-songwriters and instrumentalists, but this is the first time they have written together.
Their finest compositions are the bravest. Crosses, Crescents and Stars tackles religion and religious wars, while Tattered and Torn is a pained but thoughtful song about contemporary Britain, in which the sentiments of the traditional ballad The Bonnie Bunch of Roses that dealt with Napoleon’s demise and the unity of England, Scotland and Ireland, are compared with the current problems of “this broken land”.
Elsewhere, there are songs about child refugees, closed steelworks or two-faced politicians, but sadly there is little opportunity for Tilston to demonstrate his remarkable guitar playing, even on a tribute to Wizz Jones.