The smoothness and warmth of this album will calm you down almost instantly. The opening and title track from John Jenkins’ new album Trains is enough to seal the deal and keep you listening until the whole project comes to a close, and then, most probably, once or twice more.
This initial track offers up a conceptual train ambiance at first, which works well; sets the scene, settles you down for what will follow. Then the music eases it’s way in, and that smoothness as mentioned is the first thing you’ll notice. There’s a feeling of acoustic bliss whisked in among a slightly jazz-like musicality, all of which gives off a beautiful sense of time passing very slowly – it makes you feel OK with it all, whatever it is. The peacefulness of the song is just beautiful, and the relevance it holds in terms of the theme and the context is very powerful – it’s wonderful song writing.
To say that one song isn’t enough is something of an understatement. The songwriter has put something massively unique into this album, and as you move from track one into track two – The Paris Wife – this unique touch really takes shape.
John Jenkins is an incredibly skilled storyteller. The songs tell the stories in more ways than simply letting the lyrics do the work. The Paris Wife makes you feel like you’re in Paris, just as Trains makes you feel like you’re watching trains go by. It’s a beautiful example of scene setting and music as a true escape from reality. What’s more, with this second song, you really get to hear the personality in John Jenkins’ voice; you can pick up on those little inflections, the sound of someone being them-self in their performance, even a slight touch of Northern England (a home-like warmth) in the expression. The album takes hold of you quite quickly, and it’s more than worth sticking around for the full experience.
Songwriting is more than just lyrics and melody – part of what’s been captured in this collection is the artist’s ability to create an image of the music; to build a soundscape that reflects the ideas and the theme flawlessly, and this includes the specific choice of instrumentation in each case – the use of piano in Summer Of 76, for example. Introducing a ballad at this early point in the album shows yet another side to the creative mind, as well as adding a very personal touch to the whole release. The song is stylistically unique from it’s predecessors, but it’s a welcome variation, and in terms of the writing style and the storytelling, as mentioned, John Jenkins still has a sound that is his, and that’s a great thing to have mastered.
Some of the songs on the album sound like they could easily be classic hits from a simpler time. It’s Raining in particular, the joyful rhythm, the harmonies; the sound of the sixties comes through, and yet as always it’s a stunning new song to take into your life; the style is inspired, and the song is beautifully hopeful and comforting. Things then break down a little for Looking For That Sign – the music falls away, the artist steps forward with just an acoustic guitar, softly finger picked, and a few subtle additions to really build on that ambiance. If ever an album has the power to make everything seem OK, even the sad things, this is the perfect example. There’s a slightly melancholy story to Looking For That Sign, but it still sounds so optimistic. Fantastic writing.
Then you get a song called Put The World To Right, which, for most listeners, has a title that conjures up ideas and images before you even press play. When you do press play though, any preconceptions fall away – the songwriting makes it’s mark yet again – the story is personal, but told in a way that really reaches out to you (a similar feeling emerges again later for the song Her Soldier Boy). The honesty is so pure in this case, accompanied by the piano, and the sound of children in the background, it sends you back in time a little, potentially drawing a tear to the eye of even the sternest faces. That hope is there again, but the piano playing and the strings add a slightly haunting backdrop, perhaps as if to say – we talked about these things, but we haven’t done them just yet. These are the sort of ideas that shine so brightly with every moment that passes in the warmth of the album Trains.
Adding to the variation, Sweet Delphine brings forth a country rock-like sound; a thick and mellow beat, the familiar accordion from earlier, a touch of strings – the atmosphere built up by this creativity is not often heard on a project written by a solo artist. The story in this particular case is fantastic as well. The music here is a tool for the artist to build this new world up right in front of you, and it’s incredible to witness such an effective and artistic use of sound. Often times the structure of each song is impossible to predict. Someday We’ll See Better Days is no exception, and yet, regardless of how unpredictable the build is, it’s practically impossible not to hang on every word and every note – as if you know it will take you somewhere good, again, brilliantly in keeping with the theme of the song. You trust the writing and you trust the voice of the singer, and that’s what will compel audiences to pay attention again and again.
These stories are the sort that make you not want to miss a single word. There are lessons to be learnt in the songs, and what makes it so comforting is that you can listen and feel as if someone is taking care of things for you, just for a little while. It’s unnerving when that goes away, but, fortunately, you can then play the whole thing over and be at peace once again.
It’s impossible to pick a favourite, really. Hear the whole thing in full – you won’t stumble upon a single moment of disappointment. This type of songwriting and musical expression is rare. The album Trains is available to be downloaded via his Website. Find and follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud.