John JonesJohn Jones
Album: Never Stop Moving
Label: Westpark
Tracks: 11

John Jones will, of course, need no introduction to most fans of roots music in this country (and be-yond). As frontman and singer with Oysterband he casts a giant presence across the vast and varying plains that we call 'the folk world', not just in terms of the consistently high quality of his songwriting output and his charismatic stage persona, but also his stoic longevity.

That longevity was called into question recently following a brush with a serious illness, and as these things so often do, he freely admits that it focused his songwriting even more clearly, and "Never Stop Moving" is the mightily impressive result.

"This", he says, "is the album I have been making alongside Oysterband's 'Diamonds In The Water' over the past three years, inspired in no small part by my walking tours across the length and breadth of the country. Hopefully it reveals my fascination for the hidden villages and voices of this beautiful, curious and contradictory country and the haunting stories that exist beneath the surface. Inevitably my own story, having been diagnosed with colon cancer at the end of last year, became intertwined with it and following a really creative period, what I always thought of as my English folk, country album of big songs from small stories has become an expression of my own revival and celebration of being alive."

It's clear from the outset that this album bears all the production nuances that 'Diamonds On The Water' possesses. There is a precise clarity permeating throughout, each song is given it's own cre-ative breathing space. What is particularly striking is the subtle use of space . A less-is-more type of approach where each song blossoms and grows, and where poignant and personal lyrics can be heard and appreciated without ever being buried beneath layers of unnecessary instrumentation.

John Jones has always been a powerful vocalist. He has few equals in the live setting. He is after all the voice of the Oysterband and honesty and sincerity have always been his stock in trade. Nothing has changed in that respect on this solo outing. "Somehow my voice just gets stronger and more inventive, and at my age that is pretty amazing!" he says, "The songs are a product of my im-agination, which seems to be freer to roam these days, reckless but not as bitter or angry."

As a whole, the album flows effortlessly from song to song with a poetic cadence - from the opening acoustic guitar chords and a typically understated Jones vocal on album opener "Down By The Lake", right through to the fittingly gentle rolling score of the traditional "Rambling Boys Of Pleasure". That is indeed one of the strengths of this album - a cohesion that is borne out of meticulous care and attention to detail. None of this would be possible however without songs of the highest quality, and this follow up to 2009's "Rising Road" is quite literally brimming with them wherever you look.

"She Wrote Her Name Today" builds from Dil Davies' strident drum beat to a cascading, lush chorus with impossibly irresistible harmonies. Guaranteed by the second chorus to have you sing-ing along.

His 'reluctant rambling' bears more fruit in the form of "Ghosts Of The Village", which is driven along apace by Benji Kirkpatrick and Al Scott on guitar and bouzouki respectively. The tale of the small country village where the inhabitants are slowly driven out by the Mercs & Cherokees bri-gade. Ever one for the wry and often caustic observation - "It's hard to live in the place where you were born….a man from the city has bought these hills where we played as kids and wander still…but maybe the time is coming when the fields and the streets will come alive again..".

"Never Stop Moving" is a fitting mantra for the Jones ethos. With the lovely Rowan Godel providing verdant backing vocals and soaring harmonies, this song effortlessly blends bouzouki and pedal steel to startling effect. Whatever life throws at our protagonist, he deals with it and moves on. The circle of life endures. And the music will always be with us. Those two are certainties in an uncertain and sometimes uncaring world.

He may be a "Wanderer", but you know we can put our trust in him. This album has proved to be a listening delight from start to finish. It's an album that cements John Jones place as one of the great contemporary writers of current times. And long may that continue!

Ken Brown