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Music Review: Rabbi John – Further

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I love the sticker that is on the CD cover of Rabbi John’s latest album Further (Dreadnought Records, August 2008). It tells us that each song contains the following ingredients. 50% less schmaltz, 5.5 grams of longing, 35.3 grams of euphoria, 18.5 grams of angst, 18.1 grams of heartache, and 45.4 grams of pleasure.

It is also little wonder that pleasure is the larger percentage.This is an album that hits those spots to those degrees and the end result is a highly enjoyable stroll through the folk flavoured world of Rabbi John.  

Rabbi John formed in Bath in the UK back in 2004. Multi instrumentalist Jason Tittley has been in and around music all his life. He is now one of the UK’s leading flat-picker guitar players. When he moved to Gloucestershire he met fiddle player Becky Dellow. Deciding to form a band, they recruited double bass player Duncan Kingston and singer Paul Bienek.
In 2005 Rabbi John released their first album Skin And Bone. In 2006 they released their Live At Priddy album which had been recorded at the Priddy Folk Festival that year. The following year Becky decided to leave and Rabbi John regrouped as a trio of banjo, guitar, and the double bass. However, for this latest album they have added the percussion skills of Josh Clark.

This year sees the release of Further an album that, in many ways, defines the style and sound of their live concerts. Each song he's written carries along with it a freshness and a quality of musicianship that completes a highly satisfying experience.

Just the briefest play highlights a clear love of the music making process. “Love Child” opens the album with a style and sense of purpose, with fiddles added by Casey Drlessen.

“Angeline” builds the atmosphere and is nicely crafted. The dark “Carpenter Man” and the warm early standout “Just For A Day” are songs of high quality indeed. Both are delivered in an immediate style, as if the band has appeared in your living room. The latter contains some wonderful interplay between banjo, Matt Flinner’s mandolin, and the song itself. Lovely stuff.

Interestingly Arthur Brown, of The Crazy World Of fame, makes an appearance covering vocals on “Shout”. I asked Jason how this had come about and he explained, ‘Arthur Brown heard our first album and sent me an E-mail saying how much he liked it and that he would love to do something together at some point.’ It is a great touch, his instantly recognisable voice adding a temporary but dramatic diversion.

The instrumental “Rockit Dog” takes us back into Rabbi John and is enriched again by the joyful, playfulness of the mandolin and fiddle. The title track, the joyful jig of “Judgement Day”, with full Gospel overtones and some great lines, carry the vibe forward strongly. This one has Kate Lissauer on fiddle. “Little George” tells a dark tale of murder.

“Tomorrow’s Child” has that lovely mandolin, fiddle colour again, and provides yet more folk warmth. “Higher” strikes with a sense of purpose and backing vocals from Regine and Lauren Candler. The near wired “Adolescence” brings it all to an all too soon end. Or does it. Keep the album running for fun hidden track, possibly aimed at me a few months back.

This is an album that oozes enjoyment, for the listener and band alike. If you want a warming experience to light up your frosty nights then get to see Rabbi John and buy this album. The promise of 45.4 grams of pleasure is totally delivered. I can’t wait for my next intake.

Visit Rabbi John on their official website where you can find details of the album, band, and live dates. Dig around as there are some MP3’s on there too.

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About Jeff Perkins