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Jon Boden 'Painted Lady (10th Anniversary Reissue)' Album Review

Feelings of nostalgia abound with the reissue of Jon Boden’s spectacularly unique solo debut on its 10th Anniversary this year. It was a brave debut, stepping away from the more traditional folk material that was the trademark of Spiers and Boden and the fun-folk big-band sound that Bellowhead brought to Boden’s career; more towards a rock-inspired odyssey of self-penned material that jumps between genres as seamlessly as Boden himself jumps between instruments. Most of the material on the reissue will be familiar with long time followers of Boden’s work, and the first twelve tracks are left completely unchanged from the original recording – they are not re-recordings, and they are not remasters. That being said, it has been ten years, and though I have of course listened to the album more recently than that, a recap may be in order.

'Get A Little Something' makes for an opener that sets the tone of the album well, with a fantastic array of instruments. Where else would one hear a Banjo playing alongside an Indian Harmonium, or an Electric Guitar alongside a Glockenspiel? 'Blue Dress' takes us down a lighter road with a very singable chorus, before the electric guitar-driven 'Josephine' and heavily distorted 'Pocketful of Mud'. Boden’s trademark of throwing as many instruments as possible into an arrangement shines through on just about every single song, which is what gives the album its really unique sound. What is more impressive is that every one – at least on the original tracks; not the new ones – is played by the man himself. It does mean, I imagine, that Boden would struggle to recreate these tracks exactly live and have to settle for a more stripped down version, and fans of a more “traditional” folk sound may be put off by the album’s complexity in general, but in my own opinion the beauty of Boden’s work is in its complexity and his seeming desire to want to do everything all at once.

'Drunken Princess', 'Ophelia', and 'Broken Things' remain the highlights for me on this re-listen, on a basis of the brilliant instrumentation and fantastic melodies. Some backing vocals from Fay Hield and melody writing from John Spiers on 'Ophelia' really make the song stand out as well, and the spectacularly weird title track also deserves a mention for being just as brilliant now as on first listen. 'True Love' also provides a nice simplistic break in the middle of the album for a simple love song – if there is such a thing as “simple” in Jon Boden’s work.

The guitar from Richard Warren brings 'All Hang Down' in well as a nice contrast to the previous album, though one will immediately be stricken by the difference in production quality. It’s a nice arrangement of a traditional track, especially with the inclusion of the chorus from 'Roll the Old Chariots Along', and on first listen I actually find myself liking it more than some of the songs on the original album. 'Old Brown’s Daughter' is a rather unique track; a lot more stripped back than the other material, with just Boden and his fingerstyle guitar accompaniment, but it fits in nicely after its louder predecessors. Finally, we have the closing 'I Want to Dance with Somebody', a remarkable 80's cover in the spirit of the Bellowhead's New Year shows. It’s also nice to hear Fay Hield’s vocals in the background again alongside Ben Nicholls, and also to finally hear long-time co-collaborator Sam Sweeney’s nickelharpa also make an appearance.

Diehard Boden fans (and believe me, I’ve met many) will certainly want to add this reissue to their collection, but those who are not too bothered may just want to buy the new material individually and wait until the new album, Afterglow, is released later this year. As to whether it is worth buying a whole new complete package just for these three new songs if one already has the existing copy, I will leave up to you.

8/10

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