Reviews of Brave Faces album
Brave Faces by Rory McLeod
There's a tendency to dismiss Rory McLeod as a glorified novelty act, a maverick one band who's a great live act wilfully dipping into different styles, but doesn't somehow merit consideration as a serious songwriter. This is the album to blow that myth out of the water. Here the stylistic form is as seemingly random as ever, a veritable musical maze of ideas, but the lightning barrage of words isn't quite as intimidatingly clever as it can be, with the result that you end up admiring the quality of the songs rather than the performance. McLeod's instinctive inventiveness is especially acute this time round too. A Cut In Pay marries a clever lyric about monetarism, which someone should send to Bob Geldof to play at the next G8 summit, to a full-blooded Carribbean steel drum sound. It also includes some mighty yodelling on Hank Williams's Rambling Man, an optimistic cover of Dylan's The Man In Me, a glorious soulful acapella version of the standard Glory Of Love that's worthy of Smokey Robinson, an unnerving, unaccompanied old-timey Oh Death (a variant of which was once sung demonically by Peter Bellamy) and a lovely slide guitar romp through Jerry Reed's Guitar Man, famously covered by Elvis.
It's fun but it has substance and his own songs offer the authentic voice of the intrepid, singular troubadour McLeod has been for so long. He's always sided with the underdog, but with Guitar Man pointing the way, the poor old travelling songsmith is invariably the one being championed here in colourful, anecdotal songs like the 7-minute Not For Sale, the gorgeous, gently defiant Cold Blow These Winter Winds and, mostly for laughs, The Man Who Couldn't Say Goodbye. Emperor's New Clothes - played to a background of his son's sampled voice - must surely rank as one of the best things he's ever written. I'm not too sure the deceptively jaunty arrangement works with choir and all, but Ballad Of The Burston School Strike - relating the extraordinary story of a strike by Norfolk schoolchildren in 1911 with far-reaching consequences - could even become his The World Turned Upside Down.
It's true that the best live performers can't always transfer the magic into the studio and some element of that may also apply to Rory's past recording career. Not anymore it doesn't though. This is the poodle's rude bits.
Colin Irwin, fRoots
I bet it’s been twenty years since Rory McLeod’s first recording of multi-tracked harmonica-fuelled, adrenalin-laced whoops and hollers found it’s way into the hands of Peter Bellamy. For months after, anyone and everyone was bombarded by the tape from Peter with the exhortation. “You have got to listen to this….” Sadly, Peter is not around to hear Rory’s acapella treatment of Hank William’s ‘Rambling Man’ Dylan’s ‘The man in Me’ or the traditional ‘Oh, death’ on Brave Faces, so I suppose it’s down to me to shout, “You have GOT to listen to this…”
Unaccompanied covers are far from the whole story – there’s a load of his own stuff too. Typically Rory packs every digital second of available space (the nineteen tracks have an astonishing playing time of 78.12…) with a dazzling array of lyrics both prose and rhyming, spoken and sung in a helter-skelter, roller-coaster ride through a welter of emotions, issues and musical tom-foolery. Both vocals and instruments (guitar, harmonica, trombone, bass and all sorts of percussion) are stacked into great teetering layers, which threaten to tumble down and make the whole thing a nonsense-but never do. His music combines the expertise of a virtuoso with the enthusiasm of a child, while his writing cuts straight to the heart of his subject, be it poverty, child abuse, relationships of having a drink or three. For example, in “No More Blood For Oil” he speaks for many of us when he states “….we’re not disturbing the peace, we’re disturbing the war”.
Rory McLeod is a rare, unique and beautiful talent, and Brave Faces is a true reflection of what he does. You ought to see him live though…
Alan Rose, Living Tradition
Brave Faces by Rory McLeod, singer / songwriter / people's poet / circus
performer / fire eater / raconteur, features Rory on vocals, guitar,
harmonica, drums, bells, keyboards, trombone, steel pan, percussion,
percussion, tap shoes . The album's generous 19 tracks include 12 wonderfully
original Rory McLeod songs, five inventive cover versions and
two virtuoso harmonica performances.
With a mammoth 19 tracks on this new offering, the people who said Rory McLeod had been away too long certainly have something meaty to get their teeth into. 19 tracks that jump for one musical style to another as frequently as the lyrical content. McLeod has produced something here that is not only complex and intriguing, from start to finish it is utterly compelling.
It’s fair to say that Rory McLeod is one of the best storytellers on the scene and has gained the huge underground following because when people listen to him they are instantly hooked. That happens here as from one song to another the mood is constantly changing, you really don’t know what direction the record is going to leap in next, which certainly adds to it’s charm.
Hugely powerful songs come thick and fast here, which at times are really disturbing. However the blatant ‘telling it like it is’ style is very refreshing even in such edgy numbers. Songs about the opposition of war sit side by side with songs about domestic violence and the depression of alcoholism. Now I know that sounds like this album should be filed in the slit your wrists category but the fact many of these dark subjects are performed to a musical backdrop including flamenco and calypso, keeps the songs accessible whilst still getting the message across to the listener.
With 12 brand new songs, 5 covers and 2 instrumentals, you definitely get your money’s worth. The brilliant version of Hank Williams ‘Rambling Man’ stands out, with a superb vocal performance, however it’s Rory’s self penned songs that make this record for me and reiterates what an all round fine musician this man is. It’s also great to see ex Anam singer Aimee Leonard popping up on the odd track, as she possesses one of the best voices in celtic music, that can only enhance things.
It is a fantastic record, but you do have to give it time. Really listen to the lyrics, as it is just 19 stories being told perfectly by one of the best performers on the circuit.
Phil Daniels, online review
Back in the Vinyl 1980s there was this bloke with elongated vowels called Rory McLeod. Being introduced to his musical dynamism was one of the best turns anyone did me in a decade of painful partings. I never did the upgrade shuffle; so ‘Brave Faces’ (TALKATIVE ****) is the first time I’ve heard him on Compact Disc.
His prelude recitation to ‘Another Glass Of Forgetfulness’ is priceless, going from humour to studied desperation. ‘Ballad of The Burston School Strike’ reminds me of Guthrie and Ochs. ‘A Very Nice Bloke’ reminds me of Brecht and that is no bad thing because I need to think of Brecht’s writings more (since the Brecht Bookshop closed in East Berlin just by Brecht’s burial site, I have visited Brecht’s connected places instead of reading him.)
‘Brave Faces’ made me think and smile. And then it all came swimming back. The ‘exactly why’ McLeod ranks as one of the most incisive insightful songwriters and interpreters. Here he does Dylan’s ‘The Man In Me’. One of my fave trad blues from the strangulated vowel delta, the post Georgia Sea Islands singers ‘Oh Death’. And his measured, harmonica led percussive, body-stomping version of the klezmer clarinettist maestro Dave Tarras’ (to the disciple of the Trisk Rabbi.) Listening to Brave Faces brought it all flooding back.
19 tracks may be recklessly overgenerous but I could fill a page or two of this magazine just narrating or responding to McLeod’s generous musicianship. His ‘A Cut In Pay’ should be force-fed down every employer that whines and whinges about paying, say a freelancer. Do expect this at the end of the years best.
Ken Hunt, Record Collector (Nov 2005)