What is it about west-country-based singer-songwriter Reg? Ten albums into his career, and he's still turning out timeless, classy, stylish songs, yet he doesn't appear to be as universally appreciated as IMHO he should be. With each successive album, I find myself asking the same question but failing to find a logical reason for his comparative lack of recognition; however, to maintain a best-kept-secret status is an achievement in itself, and one not to be derided or devalued.
Reg's debut solo albums, released in the mid-to-late 90s, were masterly examples of one-man-and-his-guitar songwriterdom at its very best, containing collections of superbly crafted songs (replete with brilliantly observed lyrics and memorable melodies) that should have instantly earned Reg a place in the pantheon of great singer-songwriters of the decade - and, I wager, would have done so if they'd appeared a couple of decades earlier, around the start of the 70s. Now I don't mean to imply that, for all its classic qualities, Reg's work is in any way dated, or derivative, or retro pastiche. He takes inspiration from the singer-songwriter greats, sure, and there've been moments when several of these figures will have been namechecked (or soundchecked!). No - instead we're talking resonance here: homage, albeit subliminal or subconscious. Not imitation, but genuine and natural artistic expression emanating from a man who's absorbed the lessons of the masters and gone on to create his own engaging brand of meaningful commentary. And it might seem something of a paradox that, despite the plethora of potential namechecks evoked, Reg's own "voice" is distinctive and unmistakable, once heard and assimilated. His style is thoroughly accessible, his performance mode assured, accomplished and refreshingly plain-spoken, and his singing voice, though gentle and light-textured, is yet capable of an intense emotional honesty.
All of the above traits are on full display on December, Reg's latest album of new songs on which he comes full-circle to his no-frills vox-and-guitar beginnings, given a refined yet commendably straightforward production (by Roy Dodds) that allows full concentration exactly where it's required with no distractions, replicating the legendary intimacy of his solo gigs and responding directly to the countless requests for a record that "sounds just like what we've just heard"(though in terms of ambience and intense communication with the listener, I hasten to add, rather than any hint of auto-pilot regurgitation of past glories).
Armed with only his trusty, newly restored 1944 Martin guitar (and very occasionally dusting off the harmonica), Reg treats us to a lovingly configured sequence of songs that reflect with trademark integrity and compassion on matters of love and life: the good times and the bad, and - most tellingly - the multiple contradictions and complexities which only actual experience can bring. As in The Hands Of A Woman, one of December's standout songs, a masterpiece of thoughtful ambiguity whereby the carefully-chosen words illustrate simple truths, as the singer's direct experience of the physical world is felt to mirror his emotional state as it progresses from reassurance and hope to doubt and turmoil during the course of a relationship. The album's opening statement, the regretful When You Needed Me, is set to a rippling wistfulness that's inescapably reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, while the delicate, affecting yearning of I Want You transcends easy nostalgic reminiscence with the unalloyed beauty of its melody. This is followed by a brace of portrait-songs that almost incidentally demonstrate Reg's talent for getting inside his characters: Man In A Boat, which sways companionably with the motion of the waves, and the insightful (yet almost guilty) detachment of The Day She Never Cried. Smarter Than Me continues the theme of regret from earlier on the disc, but with just a trace of self-pity perhaps. The impassioned, quite unbearably sad In My Heart and the more hopeful Let Me Forget (which together arguably form the album's emotional centre) attempt, through pleading and self-examination, to find some kind of reconciliation upon the failure of a relationship. The Night is an impressionistic procession of images that might be felt to derive inspiration from Townes Van Zandt, while finally Christmas Song takes a tender and sympathetic slant on an all-too-familiar seasonal scenario.
Simple, affecting, and compellingly engaging expressiveness, couched in curiously memorable understatement and timeless melodic flair: therein lies the gentle enchantment - and yes, genius - of Reg Meuross.
|Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne: Kind Providence||Plu: Tir A Golau|
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