ASTOUNDING AND TRIUMPHANT ACHIEVEMENT!!
Brian Quay | 02/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Johny Brown, the singer, lyricist and contributing songwriter of the critically acclaimed Band Of Holy Joy grew up in Newcastle, a hard bitten working class seaside town where residents distract themselves from their gray surroundings and perpetual economic woes with football (soccer) and weekend watering holes. Brown escaped to London and formed the band with some mates including a gal named Max and a guy named Big John. The instrumentation included a violin,trombone,keyboards,drum,upright bass, accordion and toy instruments. German Cabaret,French Chanson,English Music Hall figure into the sound as do nursery rhymes,sea shanties,Salvation Army Bands, Xavier Cugat and fairground sounds. There is the alcoholic acoustic folk thrust of The Pogues and the wayward blue eyed soul pop of Dexys Midnight Runners. It all manages to coalesce into a sound with oodles of melodic charm,ethereal warmth and ingratiating timing "Manic,Magic,Majestic" (1989) is so staggeringly beautiful.
and singular it is difficult to classify. "Positively Spooked" (1990) sounds like a cross between Dexys and Erik Satie. Neophytes at the very least should buy both these glorious cds along with this compilation.
Brown's emotional delivery somewhat recalls Marc Almond at a slightly higher pitch. His ingenious lyricism explores with ringing poetry,exquisite sensitivity,vivid detail,dime store profundities and dreamlike intensity the schizophrenic gulf between desires and harsh reality. A restlessness pervades these timeless songs of alienation and relationships fraught with emotional tangles but Brown's playwright sensibility keeps things theatrical creating enough distance between listener and song thereby avoiding sentimentality despite musical tropes that are employed to elicit that very thing: the heartstring swelling of a violin, the romantic swirl of an accordion,the homespun whimsy of a toy piano. And while the songs often mine shadowy territories that suggest the raw feel of Naturalism ala Theodore Dreiser or Emile Zola, the accessible folkish charm and underlying valiancy pushes the subterranean essence of the songs upwards toward the light.
For acolytes this lovingly designed remastered compilation with a comprehensive discography and liner notes has songs that have never been on cd before. The rare and wonderful "The Big Ship Sails" EP (1986) is well represented here. "Who Snatched The Baby?" which made Melody Maker's year end top ten singles list is here too as is the epic "Leaves That Fall In Spring."
While no songs show up from "Tracksuit Vendetta" ( 1992) the record club only release "It's Lovebite City" reflects the type of music they were playing shortly before they dissipated. A glossier more guitar oriented catchy pop that wasn't quite as focused as earlier material. BOHJ reemerged out of the blue in 2002 with an album called "Love Never Fails". Most of the old faces were long gone with only Brown and accordionist Alfie Thomas remaining along with violinist Chris Brierley who had worked closely with the band since the Rough Trade Years but was never an official member. The resulting album was in general more experimental and atmospheric than earlier material but the tangy "Capture My Soul" here and sprightly "Someone Shares My Dreams" ,not included here, are dead ringers for "Positively Spooked" with a few production alterations. Ironically the only track here from "Positively..." is a moving alternative version of "Real Beauty Passed Through".
With the core trio of Brown,Thomas and Brierley rounded out by other new members BOHJ are currently more active today than they have been for ages. Many promising new songs, videotaped at fairly recent various shows, are up on youtube.com.. A new album is even in the works !!!!!
Until then though you will need this compilation.