John Lawrence - Rainy Night

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But I left my iPod at home.

Which is, actually, fine. I hate listening to music on public transport - particularly trains. I worry I'm going to miss a vitally important announcement:

"Would passengers please stop breathing in now as we're passing through a cloud of poison gas."

And I'd croak it because the warm tones that suffuse John's album had put me in a reverie.

Or, because I'm not used to train journeys (and when it costs £13.20 for a return trip to Manchester I won't be making it a habit) I worry that the music will obscure some important announcement about my stop:

"Passengers are warned that Manchester Oxford St. has been temporarily moved between Warrington and Newton-Le-Willows."

I'd eventually arrive in Glasgow, oblivious, because of the numerous spells cast on me by Rainy Night and its strange combination of the pastoral and the political.

I say "strange combination" because, to me, the contemporary musics that are aynonymous with politics and protest are hip hop and punk. Contemporary, alt folk, Green Man folk, hippy folk, whatever you want to call it, is lysergically-etched, removed and dream-like. And beautiful as it very often is, is mostly distant from folk music's tradition of being rooted in the political: battle songs, songs bemoaning vindictive landlords and employers, songs chronicling the plight of the workingman.

John's songs are a continuation of that tradition. They are the sound of a modern man struggling with the modern world. He chooses to paint these struggles in colours that are timeless: beautiful hues of acoustic guitar and lapsteel. A subdued drumkit warm with the sound of an actual room.

John is no traditionalist, though. Not for him a slavish dedication to DADGAD. His guitar playing, which gives this album its irresistible flow, is a unique amalagamation of those kind of traditional influences together with flamenco-like attack and flourishes, a freeform sensibility that might have evolved from jazz, with echoes, even, of the Kevin Ayers' albums that once got cited every time his former band, Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, released a long player.

There are, even, strands here evolved from John's mostly electronic Infinity Chimps project, where the music flows rather than concerns itself with attachment to a predictable verse / chorus framework. That is particularly evident on the album's masterpiece, Pre-Armageddon Blues.

There are a large number of prejudices I have picked up in a thousand years of listening to music for 12 hours a day, most days.

For example, I come out in a rash when I hear a didgeridoo. They've become so synonymous with weekend hippies and not being able to sleep at festivals that I can't help but grimace and curdle when I hear one.

Pre-Armageddon Blues has a 'didge' in it. I didn't flinch, once.

This song is a tour-do-force production. It starts off with an acoustic guitar carpet-bombed by compression, and then fairly astonishes you with a tide of didge, sequencer, gloriously Leslie-d Hammond organ, brushed snare, African drums and cavernous, dub-like echoes.

But it's the guitar that comes at you part-way through: like Roger McGuinn's solo on Eight Miles High sandblasted by an irate John Martyn, that puts you in no doubt that John is fuelled by a righteous ire. It's an astonishing piece of music from which hangs a lyric full of apocalyptic imagery, accusation, confusion, anger. It's a very human and honest reaction to 21st century life.

John sings these songs from a mountain top in Snowdonia. He rails at a world he could easily ignore and escape from, if he chose to. There are many artists scattered throughout North Wales who came here to retreat from the rigours of the world. But the beauty John sees outside his window everyday isn't a sanctuary, it inflames him even more.

Which makes this album all the more remarkable.

Rock 'n' roll music has become so sanitised, so apologetic and self conscious, it's truly invigorating - righteous, even - to hear a man build his own fire regardless of the campsite rules.

Oh, and then, finally, there is the album's title track. Which, after the nightmares of the song before, is - with its Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young harmonies -vulnerable and comforting; a hymn to hope; quite literally a shelter from the storm.

Now I am but a local radio DJ. My words and opinions don't count for much. I'm under no illusions. For today, at least.

However, if this review, if this half-arsed scattering of words, compels a handful of you to check this remarkable album out, then there is a good point to all this verbiage.

Which would be the right point to end this review. However I wanted to add that we're pulling into Manchester Oxford Rd, now. I've read back what I've written and realised that this album's most enchanting property is that I heard the whole thing, note-for-note, in my head. And I just shivered, and not because of the cold.

Rainy Night is available now from

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