Bruce Janaway – Puritanical Odes
As England shivers beneath an onslaught of unseasonably harsh weather, Sunbeam Records continues its ongoing mission to explore strange new (old) sounds, to seek out new (old) music and artistes, to boldly go where no reissue label has gone before. And with the autumnal battering the country is presently undergoing*, what better time to take a listen to this latest reissue, Bruce Janaway’s Puritanical Odes; what is a prime example of the miserable-bastard fest and musical sub-genre nowadays referred to as ‘downer folk’.
They don’t come much more arcane than this slice of 1977 acid folk. It began life as a private pressing of just 200 vinyl copies, which was then circulated among a selective audience. Far out!
Shot through with a lyrical bitterness that underlines Janaway’s apparent disgust with this mess of a world, through painfully crafted metaphor and the minimalist acid folk sound he employs, Puritanical Odes is six acoustic songs (entitled ‘Odes’ A to E and ‘Labour Pains’) performed on the 12-string guitar. There is no accompaniment other than the occasional haunting choral shriek and disconcerting bursts of erratic feedback.
As I said, miserable bastard! Which suits HFoS fine; we too are a hotbed of discontent and barely suppressed misanthropic rage.
Not really one to get the party going with a bang, Puritanical Odes is one man’s journey to the edge of darkness and the devastation that lies beyond. Janaway offers little in the way of hope throughout… in fact, scrub that; Janaway offers nothing in the way of hope, such is the pessimistic vibe that permeates every last note and every last word uttered in his rich and twilight timbre. But this isn’t an album about hope.
Puritanical Odes voices a frustration with life at an intensely personal level. Such was its limited pressing and method of distribution, one wonders whether something so abstractly intimate was ever intended to be heard by a wider public. The sketchy liner notes, supplied by Janaway himself, noticeably avoid mentioning the album altogether, instead offering a bio that briefly touches upon where his head may have been at the time of recording.
Still, Puritanical Odes is never a difficult listen, which is testament to Janaway’s skill as a musician and the searing complexity of his 12-string compositions. It’s certainly not for everyone, but within the framework of the 1970′s folk lexicon it provides a chilling counterpoint to the sanguine sojourns put out by the less cynical, hippified contingent.
As unsettling as Comus’s First Utterance, though at a deeper, more cerebral level, Puritanical Odes is well worth a listen, though maybe not as a fireside, autumnal warmer.
*Chance would be a fine thing. Instead of delicate grey mists and chilly mornings, we are presently nudging melting point with some of the hottest weather October has ever seen.
Puritanical Odes by Bruce Janaway is reissued by Sunbeam Records and available to buy from Amazon.co.uk
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