Friday, 26 February 2016

Spotlight 2016: Jones - Happy Blue

I'll come clean right from the start. Unless he decides to record an album of Death Metal or Rap, any Trevor Jones record will make my Albums Of The Year. Even if he recorded the phone book, I'd probably put that in the list. He is the most consistently superb musician I have come across in the last 20 years.

So, with that out of the way, let me justify my decision to include Happy Blue on my 2016 list.

The album is a result of a year in which Trevor Jones lost both his father and his father-in-law. 
We all deal with grief in our individual ways. For Trevor, he poured his heart and grief into song.

But don't expect an album full of dirge.

This album wears the Perfume Of Sorrow.

But it is not grief-laden. There are shades of life and hope.

And most of all, Love.

Once again, Trevor is joined by his Miracle Mile partner, the multi-instrumentalist and producer Marcus Cliffe, providing guidance and instrumentation.

The album opens with a 53 second vignette called First - completed on the last track, called Last.

It's soft and plaintive and ease the listener into the first song, Ghost Of Song. 

It's a soft and gentle, almost acoustic song with a layer of pedal steel and organ. 

With any Trevor Jones or indeed Miracle Mile album, the sound is crystal clear and you can hear every word that Trevor Jones sings - and what a pleasure this is, as there is a lot of emphasis put on the words of these songs. Trevor is indeed a poet. It's certainly levels above most of what you would hear on a normal everyday rock/pop song.

From this gentle beginning, we move onto the title track, Happy Blue.

Death is the shadow that dances around this album. But as with the track Happy Blue, it is not maudlin. It wraps it's arms around you and whispers into your ear that it's OK to be sad, it's OK to remember, memories are made of magic and they stay with you always.

'But this unholy undertow is home to me'

Lovers Never Tell, swings, yes swings, gently as the piano, brushed drums and woodwind create a beautiful backdrop to the tapestry of Trevor Jones' words as her talks of his lover.

'There lies my Lover, as feckless as a breeze.'

Now, Trevor is a master of conjuring nostalgic visions. Many of his songs in the past have brought memories to the surface of times and events of the days gone by. Again, Naked As Adam is it a song about loss. 

Religious imagery is abundant throughout the album, with words such as Angels and Prayers but balanced with nostalgic, almost childlike phrases such as Truth & Dare.

With Melvin Duffy and BJ Cole to add the melancholic Pedal Steel Guitar over the guitar and muted organ the track breezes along. And yes, there's even a first for a Trevor Jones song, a saxophone layer to take away some of the sadness.

'Now, I've seen too many funerals, for the past to rearrange, as I sit her in neutral, waiting for the lights to change.'

Three Kisses is a simple song with an almost nursery rhyme-like melody that is gentle, short and sweet. A glimmer of light in an album of poetic darkness.

'She doesn't know she doesn't care, truth tangled as her auburn hair, the autumn leaves are everywhere, like missives from above'

If you sometimes feel like the album literally dances around you then you're probably not mistaken. Dance is an important metaphor in so many ways for Trevor Jones and it resurfaces in the track Weakness and Wine with it's waltz beat. Introduced with a simple piano backdrop with track builds with pedal steel and what sound like plucked banjo or mandolin. It has it's heart in a drinking song, I'm sure. You can imagine it being sung while everybody has a skinful. 

Not all funerals have to be sad - some are an Irish Wake.

If there is one track which is unusual in the scheme of the whole album it is the next track, Cartwheels. It is an atmospheric track based on a drumbeat and percussion layered with simple electric guitar and featuring the female vocals of Lucinda Drayton. It sounds like a track that Peter Gabriel might have included on one of his albums. A track such as Mercy Street. 

'No Happy Blues, no Sorry Reds, nothing cast a shadow as you danced from dawn into bed'

St Cecilia, the Patron Saint Of Music, is a hymn to the power of music as a healer. Like most of the melodies on this album, it is simple and captivating, with that beautiful melancholy that seeps through the album like a name through a stick of seaside rock. It is a very moving answer to the themes that reoccur throughout the album.

'Your eyes were watching God, while my eyes were watching you, if I called my dream would you make my dream come true.'

The key song for me of the album comes next. And I have no shame in admitting that it made me cry the first time I heard it and it still has the power to bring a tear to my eyes now, even after I've heard it SO many times.
It is a song Trevor has written directly to his father, about his father (and mother), it's called simply Battersea Boy.
For anyone who has lost a father, it is especially poignant.

It's a piano ballad, with simple phrasing and pedal steel and woodwind colouring washes. And it's simply gorgeous. You can almost hear Trevor breaking up as he sings it. How he kept himself together while singing this I'll never know. He must have known he'd written something special. 

'These words I stumble through, the semblance of a song, I hope that they ring true, seems where they belong, My heart was shaped by you, a little short on joy, but fashioned straight and true like a Battersea Boy'

After the killer track that is Battersea Boy, Trevor lightens the mood with another beauty, Misbegotten Moon. It is a song draped in the pedal steel, organ and marimba, a song of subdued joy, again, cloaked in waltz beat. 

'So we made a promise, witnessed by starlight, and sworn on that dappled delight, we'll always be lovers, and starting tomorrow, forever be joined by the light'

In an album full of the most gorgeous songs and melodies, My Muffled Prayer makes it's way to the top of this reviewer's list.

Another sweeping and understated epic ballad, it is a song of loss, longing, hope, redemption and most clear of al,l Love. A Love that lasts a lifetime. A Forever Love. For me, it's as close to a Van Morrison epic as Trevor Jones has ever attempted. And by God he pulls it off with subtle grandeur.

We can't change what has happened but we can bear the scars and we can learn to live with the pain and hopefully bring joy into the lives of others.

It's the album's prayer for redemption, for experiencing joy again, for hope.

'Begin Again'

The album ends with Last, a reprise of the first song of the album but this time with a spoken poem track. Revisiting some of Trevor's earlier solo work, especially Hopeland.

It's a beautiful way to close this particular chapter of his life.

Happy Blue - has sorrow ever sounded so beautiful?

'Every day, my first thought and last'

Images courtesy of Marcus Cliffe 

Twitter - @hissytrev


  1. Ah, that's some thoughtful heart-felt writing Nick. Well done...

  2. Thanks Taffy. I'm out of my sick bed to read this. Lovely and loving. Made me feel a whole lot better; beloved even. I'll take that.