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Jackie Oates Jackie Oates
Album: The Joy Of Living
Label: ECC
Tracks: 16

Each successive album from Jackie is something very special and unique, and her latest (and seventh) is no exception. It’s born out of Jackie’s intense, virtually simultaneous experiencing of joy and sadness during a period when her daughter Rosie was born just five days before her father died unexpectedly from sepsis, and at a time when Jackie herself was fighting the same condition. The album uses as its title that of the valedictory Ewan MacColl song that is arguably the finest expression of those contradictory emotional states, which Jackie’s own eloquent rendition of MacColl’s masterly encapsulation of the life-force so poignantly conveys.

The album actually started life as a series of demos recorded simply in Jackie’s kitchen with children playing, but as the recordings amassed she and her collaborator, fellow-Imagined-Village-member Simon Richmond, realised “the songs were gradually inhabiting their own space in time”, and soon several musician friends were invited to come and record contributions in this intimate setting. The songs themselves, chosen from a very wide range of material, soon developed a sense of unity as a network of personal connections and correspondences became apparent, and the final 54-minute sequence is nothing short of compelling, indeed profoundly moving. The poised delicacy of Jackie’s singing is placed in crucial counterpoint by the intricately woven immediacy of her own instrumental accompaniment (viola, piano, recorder, harmonium, kantele) and further complemented by (inter alia) the gently judged textures of guitar (Jack Rutter), melodeon (John Spiers), cello (Barney Morse Brown), pedal steel (Matt Allwright).

Space does not permit me to discuss or even mention every track, but if ever an album deserved extra column inches then this is one such album. Highlights include exemplary covers of John Lennon’s Mother, Bill Caddick’s Unicorns, Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come-All-Ye, the little-known Lal Waterson song The Bird, and (big surprise) Constellations (by obscure indie band Darwin Deez), while some especially charged emotions emanate from the disc’s final pair of songs – Davy Steele’s Last Trip Home and John Tams’ Rolling Home (although the latter is but an abbreviated rendition, its interpolation of Jackie’s father’s own singing voice gives the track further personal resonance). The interspersed traditional songs prove no poor relation, while a round by William Byrd is an inspired choice, and Jackie’s own composition Spring Is Coming Soon, a simple memory associated with the early days of her motherhood, fits snugly into the sequence.

This totally honest and abundantly beautiful CD, very attractively packaged, is definitely one of my albums-of-the-year, and will surely be one of yours too.

David Kidman