Music Review: Mike Carter Jones
Written by Clay on June 18, 2014
Mike Carter Jones
CDs: Ballads and Once Its Gone (in collaboration with Mike Jones)
Reviewed by: @AutumnRosewell
Having now broadcast and reviewed work from many very different artists of all ages, backgrounds and persuasions, I’ve decided that it is a little like examining an opal from all angles. Sometimes it is one colour, sometimes another; sometimes it is dark and cloudy, sometimes full of fire and light. And I think that is the best way to try and understand what ‘folk music’ is. I’m not really interested creating a definition of ‘folk music’, I’ll leave that to the musicologists and other academics, but taking the time to look at it from all sides and under different lights is rewarding; only when you take the time to look can you see just how beautiful and how complex that jewel really is.
I’ve spent several happy days quietly working, and listening to two CDs sent to me by Mike Carter Jones: a collection entitled Ballads, and a new song writing collaboration with Mike Jones, a musician based in North Carolina, called Once its Gone. Mike Carter Jones divides his time between England and Spain, and both he and his collaborative partner have travelled extensively; so hints of experience and of music from other countries dances in and out of these songs constantly, much the same way that they flit in and out of memory.
I was keen to set out my thoughts on Mike Carter Jones’ work very simply because everything he has sent me for the radio show has made me smile; without fail it lifts the spirits and has become in my mind the musical equivalent of freshly baked bread, always welcome and somehow always comforting. I wrote in a previous review that, for me words have always meant more than music; but when I listen to Mike Carter Jones’ work I begin to change my mind and think that words and music combined are even more expressive than each could ever be on its own. His gentle guitar work is deft and fluid and his and Mike Jones’ lyrics sway sweetly from really witty (the clever lyrics of Windows 8 and Lost in the Jungle both made me laugh out loud), to poignant and tender (Is There Room at Your Table is a very gentle song of politics, war and suffering humanity). Both albums are beautifully balanced and graced with humour, joy and a very genuine kindness that shines through from every angle. But that doesn’t dilute the power in some of those messages; Is There Room at Your Table struck me as remarkably eloquent from the first hearing. It is the kind of song that could never just be background music; on hearing the opening lines, you stop whatever you are doing and you listen. Although delivered with elegance, the image of a child that starves while a nation’s leaders live in mansions is one that resonates not only in Africa, about which the song was originally written, but also in our own country and in many others. This is where a collaboration such as that of these two song writers shows its true strength: a song written after an experience in one country has become a song that is about all nations, all politics and all children. Is The Room at Your Table is a potent little song.
There is something a little old fashioned about Mike Carter Jones’ work, but pleasingly so. It never tips over into the twee, slightly swoopy 1940s sort of music, and it never falters from being entertaining and musically accomplished. There is a little gentle genre-crossing, with songs that are softly Country-inspired, and others that have a beautiful, melancholic Blues feel to them or a gentle Swing pace and some are light, slow Jazz – but it is all tied together firmly with the knowledge and discipline of a very broad, international folk tradition.
Packed into these two albums appears to be a lifetime’s worth of little observations, memories and reflections on life. This is a treasure-chest full of all the complex little moments that go to make a life fully lived: a chance meeting on a train (Meeting on a Train), dealing with bad news by laughing (I Had to Laugh), enjoying winter snuggles while its cold outside (Winter Loving), feeling lost in the huge sprawling city (Lost in the Jungle) and struggling with a new computer system (Windows 8). Some are hilarious and downright silly (Elephant in Love) and others are really charming (Ladybirds), but all encapsulate those little moments of love, sadness, reflection and humour that make us human. And it is such an enormous relief! These two CDs have acted as a panacea to all the tortured anxiety and anger that I hear bound up in the work of many musicians, which while it makes effective music, becomes a little draining when you listen to so much of it. Here, even songs of parting or of politics are handled by Mike Carter Jones and Mike Jones with the gentle, intelligent sorrow of angels, rather than the raging anger of human aggression. Sometimes the songs seem to be like little prayers, softly spoken and peaceful. At other times they seem to be part of a great conversation about all those givens of humanity: war, love, sex, work, sadness and pleasure.
These two albums are, for me, a kind of essay in why I am more interested in the work of older and experienced musicians than in the apparently endless stream of what the promoters tell me is ‘bright new young talent’. When I set out to broadcast a folk show I was most curious to hear the work of those who were part of the folk revival of the 1960s and 1970s, or those that were listening as it branched in many directions in the 1980s, or those that came to music later in life after a lifetime’s worth of love and work, children, divorce, pleasure and of watching the world’s events turn ever round and round. It is these musicians who have had the time to absorb all that clatter, reflect upon it and to use their experience to decide where they want to take their music. There are plenty of broadcasters out there keen to showcase ‘bright new young talent’, but I’m happy to be a broadcaster who stands occasionally on a pedestal and shouts about the talent of our older musicians which is, I think, of great beauty and complexity and is too often overlooked in favour of the promoters preference for adolescence. Sometimes I really tire of the energy, arrogance and self-pity of youth and would rather have music that, like this, has a glowing benevolence and a very great sense of peace and well-being in life. The musicality is immense, but lightly borne and the sense of love and lightness lingers after the music has gone.