Beggar Joe - bringing it on home.
One of the amazing things about Manchester music is the diverse spectrum of acts who've plied their trade here, few of whom sound exactly alike. The latest recruits to this illustrious scene is Beggar Joe, a five-piece band who honed their craft on the Manchester busking scene. Their self-titled debut album feels a bit like a street performance with its lively mix of folk, blues and jazz, as if trying to please whoever may be passing by. And please it does. This is a lovely, laid back offering that may not map out any uncharted musical territory but will make wherever you happen to be a much nicer place.
Like the classic old blues songs, these 13 tracks take their inspiration from the traditional themes of that genre. There is much talk of wicked men, faithless women, and the evil that gets into a man’s soul. The album begins with the quiet unease of the Iron and Wine-tinged ‘Puppet King’; “A world ruled by a puppet king, with wooden glazed eyes only hollow within.” Jon Kenzie's throaty, evocative voice adds beauty and menace to these lyrics about corruption and manipulation while the music takes a backseat, gently pushing the action along.
‘Sleeping City’ 's slide guitar opening and Kenzie’s smoky vocals is reminiscent of classic Allman Bothers but with a bluesier feel. “With one ear to the floor I can hear the winds whisper…making my body shiver, down into my soul it creeps.” The song starts off slow and easy then transcends into a glorious foot stomping, hand clapping romp. ‘Evil Overcomes’, with its steel guitar, rolling piano and pulsating stand up bass, is jazzier and punchier. “What has this good world done to deserve the horror men serve? While we sit in our towers, assuming something will be done.” Kenzie’s vocals are almost heckling while the misleadingly upbeat music belies the cynical message within.
‘Rely On’ is a complete departure. It opens simply with acoustic guitar and Kenzie’s beautiful voice with the rest of the band eventually joining in, wisely keeping the vocals centre stage. “He needs to be someone he can rely…that he can be proud of.” ‘Zabba’ is a bit of a disappointment. If you have a voice as good as Jon Kenzie you shouldn’t try to sound like someone else. Kenzie’s Louis Armstrong impersonation is a bit grating and the lumbering uninspired music does little to help.
Fortunately the gorgeous ‘Mind Strays’ comes to the rescue, the soft jazz-infused music leaving Kenzie’s voice free to roam where it will; "What is this place that fills my eyes with beauty and grace?" ‘Time Is Now’ has a Cuban feel to it while ‘Aint No Way’ sounds like Jamiroqui mixed with classic Doobie Brothers; “Woman what do expect from me, to come back to you after you made me look a fool.”
The rest of the album returns to the blue-folk of the opening tracks. ‘No More Revelations’ is like a breath of fresh air with its refreshing simplicity and Kenzie’s powerful and passionate vocals;"I can no longer see straight, my vision has changed into a haze." The instrumental ‘Walk Away Pat 1’ starts with a Spanish guitar intro setting the scene for ‘Walk Away Part 2’, quiet, haunting and exquisitely beautiful, the band’s subtle and elegant playing showcasing Kenzie’s astonishing voice; "As I'm sitting here, I see in my eyes, that I'm lying to myself." The ethereal ‘Misbehaver’ sounds like a lullaby with Kenzie singing softly in your ear; “Oh misbehaver, what mischief is this?” The album ends with the gentle and lulling ‘Can You See’; “If you had some of these things, you’d be floating free.” The song’s stripped-down sound blends well with Kenzie’s dreamy delivery.
This is an impressive first album with an interesting mix of styles that never seem to stray from the band’s own identity. It will be the perfect record for winding down to after a long hard day.