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.