Jan 052010

From Twisted Ear:

A little way into ninth track Dry Off Your Cheeks, Mr T sounds exactly like Sandinista-era Joe Strummer- strained, throaty, sure of purpose, desperate to be heard, fighting to unite and spread wide- and you realise what this album’s all about . . .

But, before all that, picture this:

2004. You’re sitting alone in the passenger seat of an old Golf on a dark, rainy night at the edge of Ireland. Blue-black Antrim mountains and fierce sea-gales surround you. The driver gets out, says ‘have a listen to this’, heads off into the shop to pick up a video and some whiskey. The CD starts and, for the next half-hour or so- driver returned, car headed off round the coast-road- you fall into a mesmerised, dark-sweet reverie, utterly drowned in English urban stories and American music. It’s that moment, that eternity when sound and words transport you completely, when you’re nowhere, no time. And it’s courtesy of some cocky little, wordy little git from Barnet via Birmingham.

You spend frustrating months waiting to repeat that eternity-moment.

And then picture this:

A couple of years on, floating around the internet in a windowless office, bored and lost, you come across a little sharp, fizzy, vimmy three-minute-innit shot of freshness from some kid from Wimbledon and- for those eternal moments- you’re there– entirely encapsulated, smiling, frightened, rapt. It’s happened again.

No pressure, then, Jamie. Just follow that.

And he has. Magnificently. Slick slices of louche lies and life, echoes of Skinner’s acute self-deprecation and observation, but with the bars of the hip-hop cage that contain Skinner’s humour and spleen long-since cut through- oh yeah, JT’s his own man. With just a little help from every punky rootsy rebel in the last forty years . . .

Panic Prevention swaggers into your life with Brand New Bass Guitar– raw, lean acoustic rockabilly, Strummer inflections and self-mythologising kicking things off in a deceptively shambolic way before Salvador’s dark bluesy-punk aggression re-focuses us away from jokey self-deprecation and back towards a meaner, fuller passion. Third track and current single Calm Down Dearest’s has a Streetsian chorus interrupting Dizzee-style auto-story-telling and you know this is going to be good . . .

Those transported moments keep on happening here. It’s rockabilly, ska, punk, reggae, folk, dub, hip-hop. It’s spiked drinks, girls and boys, rucks, hate, hurt, danger and laughing in the face of a drifting, nihilistic culture. It’s little of the direct confrontational ideology of his dead/ageing mentors- the Clash, Marley, Two Tone, Sly, Curtis- but a lot of the personal-is-political of later generations. And- above all- it’s the magical melding of black and white musics into a new, coherent whole that characterises those ancient heroes (with less of (for example) Strummer/Jones’ tub-thumping and self-conscious eclecticism and more of Simonon’s pure love of the music.)

So the wonderful So Lonely Was The Ballad follows Calm Down . . . :  ska’d, lyrical scraps with Weller and Davies and weird (musical) reminiscences of 70s balladry; Back In The Game delivers another spare piece of acoustic-guitar and The Voice Of A Generation; Operation is the Specials and the immortal line, ‘I ain’t no abacus but you can count on me’. Thanks for that, Jamie . . .

Sheila’s Squeeze-like kitchen-sink dramas of sarcasm and yearning and Pacemaker’s ragga, Capital Radio, spiky-guitar toasting are enchanting as they stretch things out of warm melodic comfort. Dry Off Your Cheeks (anything familiar about that title?) is jaunty, taunting, on-the-edge dub. Ike And Tina is a neat little, rappy-rock Magical Mystery Tour, If You Got The Money (as we all know) beautifully arresting, quirky, focused, funny and clear. And Alicia Quays’ primal dub and lyrical pleasures- ‘why is it that New Year’s Eve is always shit?’- finishes things off enchantingly.

Ultimately, it is Sandinista, not London Calling. Joyous, harsh, fragmented, exhilaratingly multi-minded, in love with and just a bit scared of the big wide world and its music, macho and awkwardly in touch with its feminine side, black, white and thrillingly colourful. Will Jamie T last? You have to hope so. And you also have to hope he doesn’t become so famous his next album’s all about how difficult it is being famous . . .

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