Your answer is guaranteed to get you in trouble. The honest answer is usually "Jeez, did a five year old paint that?" or "No, Bono, crap like that should never be published." But if you try not to hurt your friend's feelings, well it only encourages them to paint or write more.
No such worries when Jinder announces he's got a new album on its way and asking would I like to hear it. It popped through the door at the end of last week and has since had a thorough going over. I like it. When I like something I kinda feel that everyone should like it. I mean, if its good enough for me, then its good enough for you.
You may not have heard of Jinder but he's a hardworking singer-songwriter sort of guy, travels the length and breadth playing - I checked up on him one Bank Holiday weekend: he was playing six gigs over three days, from pubs to festivals. And he writes, he's collaborated with a whole bunch of people including 10cc's Graham Gouldman, Henry Priestman and that guy from Deacon Blue. One of his songs is on the new Aled (. . . walking in the air . . .) Jones album. Which should put shoes on the kids' feet for a while.
Jinder is one of what might be a dying breed of itinerant singer songwriters whose strengths are
(i) an ability to write a good song,
(ii) the ability to hold a tune,
(iii) competence at playing a musical instrument
(iv) the ability to hold an audience.
I first came across him as a fellow Townes van Zandt fan and back in 2007 invited him to be part of "No Deeper Blue", a gig commemorating the tenth anniversary of TVZ's death. Here's Jinder's song Townes Blues from a 2009 album 9c from Benelux. And here's a little bonus.
So what is the new album like?
If I've got a complaint it's this: the best track on the album is the first one and it's in the wrong place. I'll come back to it. I'm going to pretend track 2 is the opener. May Your Train Roll On is classic Jinder, it's got trains and stations and love and loss. And a rocking tune. If this was all Jinder played there'd be a place for him on those Irish country music programmes (hi, Phil Mack!). It storms along like a coal train banging down a silver track. A grand opener.
Keys to the World sneaks up on you, starting with acoustic guitar and a plea for the keys of the world and everything. Sung from the perspective of a sailor's wife, perhaps a fisherman's friend, who has lost everything and now waits forever alone. Two minutes in an electric guitar underlines the hidden pain, the swirling pain and anger inside. Having lost the most important thing in life all I need to make up for it is . . . everything.
There's more traditional darkness in Stations in the Valley, a deceptively simple song, one man and his guitar, belying the craftsmanship behind it.
I Remember Home starts off brighter with some lovely Levenesque guitar in the middle. A road (or rail) song, about the downside of being an itinerant singer songwriter, 4000 miles from home. Every memory in my mind seems to end with goodbye, I remember home and I remember you, I remember love so I sing for truth and beauty I remember you always. This is after midnight with a bottle of red music.
You want to hear a song?
Boil the world. Totally unrepresentative, well musically at least. Lyrically its just about the end of the world so I guess it fits in with the rest of the album.
Jinder wears his influences on his sleeve, but when those influences are of the calibre of Townes van Zandt, and Jackie Leven, Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel I don't mind. There's even an echo of Devon Sproule in one song.
Song for Jackie Leven/Poortown doesn't just wear its influence on its sleeve, it is emblazoned across the t-shirt and novelty hat. Jackie Leven was another itinerant singer songwriter whose death in November 2011 inspired this song. Tributes like this generally show how wide the gap is between the subject matter of the song and the tribute writer. Here however, as with Townes Blues, Jinder manages to pull off the rare feat of writing a tribute song which works at a broader level. If you've never heard of Jackie you will still recognise the feeling, the loss of a friend, an older and wiser brother. Now I know I'll never see your face on the road again.. The first time I heard this song was here . . .
. . . in the back garden of Oates Acres with a group of friends. There were tears. Here Song for Jackie Leven segues into one of Jackie's finest songs Poortown. Jinder does it justice, You really need to buy this album.
I said the album's opener is in the wrong place. It should be here. So this is where I'm going to put it. The songs of loss and love and stations were leading the listener to this. New Maps of Hell is the blackest, bleakest song on the album. A beautiful sparse sound, lyrics that match. No wasted words. I hear destiny in silence, in Satie and in Brel. A love poem to God. It would have made a great addition to Johnny Cash American Recordings. Can't see Aled Jones covering it.
The final song on Traditional Dark is Gathering my Children Home. A perfectly measured finale. Come now, reverent, come now my gentle host. Bringing it all back home, the itinerant songwriter returning from the road, with his songs, to his children. A little frippertronic guitar (who knew?) colouring the darkness. There's a sense that the journey is not over, being home is just a break in hostilities, but to paraphrase an Old West African Song to be alive to play this song is a victory.
This really is a fine album, in the old sense of a bunch of songs put together to create a whole (although track 1 should be 7) like Five Leave Left or Songs from a Room. An album you listen to start to finish and then play again. Each play reveals a little more (unlike the kind of pop where repeated listening reveals hidden shallows. Hi Blunty).
You can pre-order (or if you're coming across this late, buy it now) from the tax dodgers here or there. Best thing to do is buy a copy from Jinder himself next time he plays your town. Awesome album.