I start this review by saying a big thank you to both Stockfisch’s Günter Pauler and to Reg Meuross, for giving us nearly 52 minutes of playing time. Yes, I realise that one does not buy artistic work by the size of painting or the length of novel (as though they were apples and oranges at “x” price a kilo). But recently reviewing an album that weighed in at just 31 minutes, I could not help but feel ever-so-slightly cheated. Here, I emphatically do not.
Reg Meuross is a Somerset-based singer songwriter with a considerable talent. He only made his first solo album in 2004, but has delivered over a dozen since. All of self-penned songs. A quite staggering output. You wonder if he has any time left to sleep at night...!!
So preamble over, down to the review.
This unusual album is, as far as I can see, a selection of the best of his songs over those intervening years. “What’s unusual in that?” you may ask.
I’ll tell you what’s unusual: it is the fact that the choice was not made by Reg himself, but seemingly by Günter and his Stockfisch label. And with the aid of some of Germany’s finest folk musicians, re-workings of some of his celebrated songs - like the one about the musicians who drowned when the Titanic sank, viz. The Band Played ‘Sweet Marie’ – come up as newly minted.
Günter Pauler is a man who clearly exudes good taste, because it is apparent to me that the songs that he reveres are the songs from the Meuross oeuvre that have most resonated with me and my more discerning friends, (though in truth, a few of these songs were also new to me, as I cannot claim to have heard Reg’s total output down the years).
The opener Good With His Hands sets the tone for what follows. It tells a story, as most of his songs do, and tells it using gentle flowing melody, coupled with well-crafted lyrics that always tip their hat to rhythm, meter and rhyme. And Reg tells it in a gentle, tuneful voice that he never needs to force: I used to think he was influenced by a mixture of Cat Stevens and Neil Young...but I now rather fancy that he must have listened to the late Nat King Cole while still in the womb...!! Not since Perry Como, have I found a more relaxing voice to listen to.
I could write at length about each song, but that is not what I reckon a review should be about: any more than a report on a football match should detail the action in every one of the 90 minutes of play.
So take it as a “given” that Reg performed well from first minute to last. But you, dear reader, are screaming at me “tell me about his shots at goal that hit the back of the net, Dai”. And so, let me tell you about the songs that really grabbed me here.
1. Good With His Hands 2. Edward Hopper's Bar 3. England Green & England Grey 4. One Way Ticket To Louise 5. Sophie (This Beautiful Day) 6. And Jesus Wept 7. The Band Played Sweet Marie 8. Looking For Johnny Ray 9. Jealous 10. I Need You 11. The Shoreline And The Sea 12. Worry No More Reg Meuross - vocals, guitar Ian Melrose - guitars, flute Lea Morris - background vocals Lutz Möller - piano, keyboards Justin Ciuche - violin Lucile Chaubard - violoncello Jean Kelly - irish harp Antoine Pütz - fretless & electric bass Hans-Jörg Maucksch- fretless bass Beo Brockhausen - tenor & soprano sax, bowed psaltery, autoharpReg Meuross "Reg Meuross", Stockfisch, 2018 (Hybrid SACD)
The aforementioned opener, about his late dad, with its subtle changes in the last line of each chorus. Then there was his England Green & England Grey, the title song of his 2014 album, which I note that a friend of mine has called “anthemic”. Not so certain about that, but it is a strong song, for sure, and one in which Reg does not attempt to stifle his strong political views.
It ends with the line “there is none so sweet as England”, which some may see as a trifle “rich” of Reg...seeing as in the previous four verses he has given aspects of his country a real pummelling to the midriff...!! But that said, Reg does indeed speak a lot of truths in those same verses.
Then there is One Way Ticket To Louise, a song about a chap travelling by night bus to his lover. Don’t you just adore these four lines:
There are women on the corner with their hair pulled tight In white stiletto heels and legs for staying up all night The boys lean on their pool cues and they wonder with their eyes If they’re man enough to deal with what is stirring in those thighs
And then we come to my favourite song on the album. For Sophie (This Beautiful Day) is about a young anti-Nazi activist guillotined in 1943, along with her brother and a friend. To my shame, I grew up and lived a long working life knowing nothing about The White Rose Movement, until in 2006, I went to the cinema to see a film called Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days). I’m not ashamed to say that I came out of that Lincolnshire cinema crying: I was a grown man, yet here I was in bits. And I say this to my fellow Brits: were the roles reversed, would you have shown such courage against a truly wicked and murderous regime? I know I would not, and I suspect my friends would not either. I am still in awe of the courage of those young Germans against the forces of true evil.
And the highest compliment, I can pay Reg, is to say that he truly honours Sophie’s memory with this song.
Any other songs to mention? Oh I could write about them all...but this is supposed to be a review and not a list. So I will resist the temptation. I might have said a word about the disarming Looking For Johnnie Ray ...a song that refers to the American pop singer of the 1950s, and has a welcome message that not all women look for the “macho” in a man. (Particularly welcome to a fellow like me: the very antithesis of a Clint Eastwood...!!)
But yes, there is one song I have missed, and I need to comment on, before bringing this review to a close. It is his remarkable The Man In Edward Hopper's Bar.
Now, all of us who know Hopper’s famous painting Nighthawks, have probably mused on exactly what we thought was being said by the people behind the window. Reg, it seems, is no different: and here in this song, we indeed hear his idea of that very conversation. And do you know what? He added a whole new dimension to the painting for me. I salute him for that.
And I end this review by giving Reg a great idea for a future album: why not imagine the lives and conversations of characters in 12 iconic paintings, ranging from masterpieces like Da Vinci’s The Last Supper to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, taking in quirky pictures like Grant Wood’s American Gothic along the way.
What sayest thou, Reg? Trust me boyo, it would be a winner.
Photo Credits: (1ff) Reg Meuross (unknown/website).