CD Review: Keith James, ‘Tenderness Claws’

One of my reviews for folking.com:

KEITH JAMES – Tenderness Claws (Hurdy Gurdy HGA2926)

Settings of poems by Lorca, Kerouac, William Blake, Allen Ginsburg, Dylan Thomas, and Keith James himself. Plus a nice cover of White Room (the words for which were written by the beat poet Pete Brown, so on topic…)

Folking.com has already reviewed his ‘Always…’ CD from 2015, but I got a copy along with ‘Tenderness Claws’, so I may review it for this site.

David Harley

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Dying of Communication [demo]

A suddenly resurrected blues-y song. First time sung in about 30 years, so a bit rough, but I like the energy.

I woke up in the night thinking about this one for the first time in maybe 30 years. Fortunately, I could still find the words, though I’ve changed them slightly here (also the tempo is a bit more upbeat than when I originally wrote it). Unusually (for me) the slide is an open G. I’ve been using an open C again recently, too.

Dying of communication: Copyright David Harley 1976

Sitting it out at the full moon
Reading my mail from the next room
Can’t you see we’re dying
Dying of communication?

Checking it out with the radio
Late late news is ‘no place to go’
Can’t you see we’re dying
Dying of communication?

Sitting it out in the bathroom
Freaked out on ego juice
Fighting it out in the bedroom
Wondering what’s the use
Everyone knows we’re dying
Dying of communication

 

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Big Road Blues [demo]

A Tommy Johnson classic that suddenly revisited my head after a decade or two.

I was actually noodling around with an arrangement for Castles and Kings, which I’ve started to think of as a sort of Shropshire train blues, when I suddenly found myself thinking of the Tommy Johnson classic ‘Big Road Blues’, which hasn’t crossed my mind in decades.

This version is a bit tentative (not least because I wasn’t sure I remembered the words correctly, and the arrangement isn’t at all how I used to do it). But I wanted to get it down before I forgot about it again, and I think with a little polish it’ll work well.

Anyway…

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries [demo]

Updated version of a setting by me of the Housman poem.

[Another pass at a song I’ve previously mounted on this site. This time, I’ve built up the guitar a bit, and dialed down the vocal drama somewhat. Not the final version, but I’m far happier with this.]

Another Housman setting, this time from Last Poems. Very rough, since I was literally making up the tune as I went along, but I’m seeing whether it will fit into a sequence of songs I’ve been working on. (See Soldier (You Come, You Go) and Soldier of Fortune.)

 

The 1917 poem refers to the British Expeditionary Force, which German propagandists referred to as ‘mercenaries’ because at the outbreak of war, Britain’s army consisted of professional soldiers rather than conscripts or the later volunteers of ‘Kitchener’s Army‘. The BEF was practically wiped out by 1916.

A poem by Hugh MacDiarmid, ‘Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries’ takes a very different view, regarding the BEF as ‘professional murderers’.

The setting by Geoffrey Burgon sung by Gillian McPherson on the soundtrack to the Dogs of War is much more dramatic, and very effective (even though some might doubt whether the poem is entirely appropriate in terms of this particular novel and movie). This is much simpler and fits the cycle I have in mind better. Still, I might rethink that. This is definitely a work in progress.

Here’s the Housman poem:

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

David Harley

Coasting [demo]

I’ve recorded this several times before, including a ‘proper’ studio version, but have never been quite satisfied with it. This rough mix attempts a looser version with a jazzier guitar. Both guitars here are a Gibson jumbo with a P90 pickup, by the way, if these things are of interest to you. 🙂

David Harley