Billy Penn's Brother - Power Blocs/Mustard Seeds

Sunday 1st July 1990
Billy Penn's Brother - Power Blocs/Mustard Seeds

STYLE: Roots/Acoustic
RATING 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
LABEL: Independent
FORMAT: Cassette Album

Reviewed by James Attlee

If you've read the rest of this issue you'll know that this guy talks a gdbd fight. The question is, has he got the songs to back it up? Let's just say lyrically this album cuts through most of what's around like a hot knife through an EEC butter mountain. The man has chosen to work within the folk mould - voice and acoustic guitar supple­mented by the sparsest of added instrumentation. The medium allows his songs maximum impact. Side one opens with a scathing attack on politicians who suddenly find their popular­ity, and the loyalty of their colleagues, on the wane. The second track, "Song For Annette", is based on the story of a nine-year-old whose burnt corpse was discovered in a ditch. "Oh yes it was a long dark night that brought you to that place/tell me who upon God's green and pleasant earth/ despised the crystal tears running down your face...just a man out there without name." Nicholson has a 'character voice' - not good in the accepted sense perhaps, but instantly recognizable, with a Northum­brian richness that communi­cates outrage without resorting to hysteria. The third track, "Oh Danny Boy", is as effective on indictment of terrorism as you're likely to hear. "Well the night's as black as the Devil's heart/your hands they sweat as the wire sparks/your fingerprints on the plastic dough/will soon be gone, no one need ever know/you lit the candles on a birthday cake/ and you made a wish they would all escape/but limbs are flying through the air/with wedding rings and teddy bears." Other targets are property developers buying up a neighbourhood, in the song "In A Daze", written from the point of view of an alienated 87-year-old local; educationalists squeezing the dreams out of children ("A Golden Bell Is Chiming"); deluded Christian banner wavers ("Delusions Of Grandeur"); and the dishonest media ("The Ten O'clock News"). All is not gloom and despondency however.  "To Kiss A Fool" and "You're Beautiful" are love songs, one to a wife and one to a daughter, and he has time to make a statement of faith on the autobiographical "Death On The Instalment Plan". "I heard some pilgrims with a voice/one morning outside Wigan town/ then and there I made the choice/to lay my broken spirit down/beside the waters that run deep/beneath the bridge that made the span/where no one can make the leap/across the gap that severs life and death on the instalment plan." The album is flawed, certainly, by a low budget production.  Perhaps some of the songs could do with editing; and I'm not convinced by all of the arrangements - but basically it's so far ahead of the competition that these are minor points.  In "A Golden Bell Is Chiming", Nicholson sings "On the 29th of April 1953/this old world got a big surprise in the shape of me/and for a while I stayed under the covers/ protected by my father and my mother/they had a dream their boy would be elected/but somewhere down the line I must have wrecked it." Set the record straight - elect this man immediately.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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