Davies-Jones Chasing light  as reviewed in Phantom TollboothDavies-Jones gives us a fine balance of traditional fare, observation, politics and faith.

Label: Heading West Music
Time: 12 tracks / 50 minutes

Davies-Jones’ releases are forming an arc. In the early days, he would tell a story of human tragedy or injustice so poignantly that by the ends of the disc, the indignant listener could be submerged under waves of grief and the sheer unstoppable need to change the world. That was powerful, but when next inclined to put the disc on, you could remember that burdensome feeling and take the easy way out. Ten minutes later, your ears might be listening instead to something easy and instant, like Free or Robbie Williams.

Bit by bit, the discs eased up until 2008’s fine Water and Light, where storytelling was still to the fore, but had broadened to include traditional fare such as “Black Velvet Band” and songs about shipwrecks. Political edge remained in songs like “Shoreline of Ghosts,” but the balance was well-judged.

Sadly, in continuing that lightening progression with Chasing Light, his straight line has become an arc and his direction has begun to move downwards.

On “Reilly,” a tragic song of death and forbidden romance, Davies-Jones sounds so jolly that it could almost be the soundtrack to a bread advert (a shame, as it also features some tasteful harmonies and lively uilleann pipes). And he may spend a lot of time near the coast, but why regularly repeat so brazenly the themes of water and light found all over Water and Light? Does this mean that he is losing his creative drive?

“Rover of the Sea” lacks sparkle, as does a middle section from “Sweet Portaferry” to the upbeat, but rather tuneless and doom-laden “Headlines”– although it does include the thought-provoking “Berlin to Bethlehem,” which parallels the two infamous walls.

I don’t want to paint a negative picture, however, as there are several places where he plays to his strengths and shows what a distinctive singer he can be. Opening track “The Fields,” brightened by mandocello, is like Kevin Max doing Americana; “Hidden” is a poetic take on the longing for the completeness of heaven this side of the veil, where his guitar work resembles that of a mellow Martyn Joseph; and “Troubadour” follows a similar theme.

As before, he ends with a transfixing instrumental. “Ingram” is something that you can listen to while gazing mindlessly out of the window, lost in the mood and living the moment. Part of its charm is the steely warmth of playing it on mandocello. It is joined by the simple “Chasing Light” – and thankfully, this time neither instrumental is downplayed as a ‘bonus track’.

The sound on this collection is open and clear, but some of the arrangements lack invention. The balance of content is again well-placed as he juggles faith, politics, folk-song and personal observation, all approached with seasoned intelligence. He may have lost some of his affecting storytelling and melodies, but his other USP remains – that warm and lilting voice, just built for listening to.


Derek Walker