Album review

Jamie Doe / The Magic Lantern – ‘A Reckoning Bell’

Jamie Doe / The Magic Lantern – A Reckoning Bell

(Hectic Eclectic Records. Album Review by Jane Mann)

The Magic Lantern is the performing name of Australian born, London-based singer songwriter Jamie Doe, and A Reckoning Bell is his fourth album. I first came across Doe at a gig at the Camberwell Crypt where he performed both the music of American contemporary classical composer Frederic Rzewski (with a string quartet) and acapella traditional folk songs with equal intensity. Subsequently I caught up with him performing his own material with a top notch jazz ensemble, some of whom play on this recording, in a wine cellar under the Farringdon Road. Lately he recorded Laurie Anderson’s Oh Superman in a new arrangement by contemporary music outfit the Phaedra Ensemble. He is one of those uncategorizable modern musicians who defies pigeon-holing, and he can turn his remarkable voice to whatever the project, whatever the genre.

His own work is always intensely personal, never more so than here. On A Reckoning Bell, the issues that Doe has been tussling with are profound – the album was written and recorded while he was helping to care for his father who had Alzheimers disease (his father, a handsome chap whom Doe resembles, is photographed on the album cover). Doe writes, “Making music has always been a way of working out what I think, but in the midst of this intensely emotional time, it has also been a raft when the ground has given way…”

Some of the music is achingly sad, as you would imagine, and the lyrics affecting – Doe does not shy away from showing vulnerability, in the face of “the inevitability of a loss witnessed in slow motion” and yet, he manages to convey not just the terrible sadness, but also the surprising moments of joy.

I actively seek out artists who can convey joy, and Jamie Doe is one of that select band. His singing voice is astoundingly good – he has a purity of tone and clarity of diction well suited to folk and early music, but also perfect for his contemporary compositions.

He writes a beautiful melody too – at times deceptively simple, but always pretty – some as plangent as hymns, others as complex as a Paul Simon tune, and he has a similarly large vocal range. Doe plays guitar on this album and is well served by the group of young jazz and classical musicians in his band. The unusual instrumentation includes recorders, courtesy of Doe’s wife Rhia Parker, who also provides additional vocals, and flutes and shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) from Detta Danford (both are key players in the ensemble Breakfast Club). There are some fine and original arrangements here too. Weariest River seems to have a bank of bass clarinets in the mix, Bound For Glory is propelled along by a pared down combination of piano and drums until a trombone section appears. This Life uses piano and sweet strings to touching affect.

Blades of Grass is an archetypal Doe composition – it begins with simple guitar riff and an arresting vocal line “Let it be known, I cry a lot”, other instruments and voices gently join in, and before you know it it’s swelled into a groove driven song, with drums, and synths soaring over the top, and a catchy chorus, and then just as quickly the tune delicately resolves. How Simple was apparently recorded as an acapella folk ballad, then different players were invited to improvise around the vocal melody, without hearing each other’s contributions. The resulting ensemble is charming with a very light touch.

It is difficult to pick out a standout track, but for me, the joyful songs on A Reckoning Bell are the ones I go back to. Enough is a delight – the melody skips along lightly, with beautiful harmonies from the backing vocalists. I also like Holding On, with itslovely lyrical line, and shimmering Debussy-like piano accompaniment from Matt Robinson (Snowpoet, Emilia Martensson).

As Lauren Laverne said recently on BBC6 Music “Dreamy, beautiful. Something very, very special.”

TRACKS (All written by Jamie Doe)

  1. Bound For Glory
  2. This Life
  3. Blades Of Grass
  4. Fault Line
  5. How Simple
  6. Private
  7. Enough
  8. There’s A Light
  9. Learning To Swim
  10. Holding On
  11. Weariest River
  12. Coda

BAND
Vocals and acoustic guitar – Jamie Doe 
Piano – Matt Robinson 
Electric Bass, Double Bass and Synths – Chris Hyson 
Drums and percussion – Dave Hamblett, Lloyd Haines 
Electric Guitar – Alex Haines 
Bass clarinet, Tenor Saxophone and Metal Clarinet – Zac Gvirtzman 
Recorders – Rhia Parker 
Flutes and Shakuhachi – Detta Danford 
Trombone – Kieran McLeod 
Violin and Viola – Phil Granell 
Additional vocals – Rhia Parker, Campbell Sibthorpe, Zac Gvirtzman

LINKS: Album available from Bandcamp

A Reckoning Bell is released on 5 November 2021.

The Magic Lantern is embarking on a promotional tour of England and Scotland, beginning on 3 November, details HERE: London date at The Sanctuary, E17 on 9 December 2021.

Categories: Album review

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