Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, The Parish Notices (Lowe Life music / Tantobie Records, 2003)

This isn't the latest release from Jez and the Pennies, but rather a reissue of the album released in1998 in the U.K with the same name, but this one is called 'The Art Edition' and has 3 extra tracks, put on by Tantobie, California, U.S.A. Tantobie is the result of a partnership formed by Jez and Andy Smyser. I understand a portion of Tantobie's profit will go to charity, shared between animal welfare and social justice or other charitable organisations.

Luckily for me, Jez doesn’t live too far away and I have seen Jez live on numerous occasions both with the Pennies and as a solo performer. It has given me plenty of time to study his performances and his songs. I think I can say without fear of argument, "He's bloody good," and without a doubt he's one of the very best songwriters around at the moment. If you get the chance to see him live - don't miss out! Usually he is instantly recognisable at his gigs by his striped Breton / Matelot tee-shirt. Jez is a shy but handsome young man from the North-East of England. His live performances are punctuated with the accent and humour from this part of Britain. He has a talent for writing simple but good songs; most are taken from his observations on everyday life and feelings living in the north of England. The secret of Jez Lowe's songs is held in the music just as much as the lyrics. Often they are underpinned with a good melody with a foot tapping swing beat, but remain firmly in the folk idiom.

I have a feeling that most Jez Lowe and the Pennies fans in England will already have the original The Parish Notices album. So for the benefit of those that haven't I will remind you that this is the one with some of the most popular tracks from their live performances. Songs like "Tom-Tom," "Propping (up walls)," "Spitting Cousins," The Parish Notices' "Go Away Joe," and "Had Away Gan On." The latter is a play on Geordie dialect; translated it means roughly 'Away with you, go on,' (if some one tells you something funny and/or you don't believe him/her.) The Geordie lingo must be an absolute mystery to most of the English-speaking world - but that's the charm of it and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.

The 3 bonus tracks on this album start at track 13 with the song "Easy Town." The song title is a play on the name of Easington Town, Jez's home in County Durham. The song reflects on traveling away, homesickness, homecoming, and memories. Next is song "A Lass to Want Me" a song of loneliness, inspired by meeting an autistic man in 1993. Finally "Slack Water Sea," a song about the pollution caused by the coal slag being dumped in the north sea of the coast of Northumberland. Instead of being green, the sea was a thick grey colour. When the mines closed in the 1990s the practice stopped and now a decade later, the sea is beginning to recover. Three extra songs that finish the album of and give it a bit more perspective, you lucky Americans!

If you are not already a fan of Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, I urge you to get this album, and you soon will be. This is British contemporary folk music at its very best.

[Peter Massey]

Visit Lowe's Web site, and the site for Tantobie, where you can purchase this album