For the last two weeks I neglected to do my review. This was partially a result of setting up a Patreon for my own creative writing work and getting very excited, and partly due to being overwhelmed by suggestions for things to review – thank you everyone, I now have a list to be going on with for a while!
First to be put on the list was a ten minute freestyle rap by Black Thought from ‘The Roots,’ proposed by someone on Twitter. I agreed to attempt this, but must openly admit that I am really, really, not a rap person, so this was a tough one. A little wary of trying to write about something I don’t know enough about to be fair to, I procrastinated. So here we are. I will give some thoughts on it, because I don’t like to refuse a challenge or ignore a suggestion. However, my comments should not be taken too seriously, as having a brain simply not used to hearing words go that fast, I probably only hear about 70% of what is said in a work like this one. This is also a compliment, because the speed of thought required to come up with words freestyle at this pace and the dexterity of diction required to say it all clearly enough that even I got most of it is incredible. I also feel that this is doing what rap was made to do – talking about life, inequality, and the nitty gritty of living in a way that fits the words together so that they feel like fast poetry to a beat. With the mind of a non-regular listener to works of this nature I struggled to keep up and take in everything, and it would be unfair to the artist to have too much to say about the work, but it can certainly be said that words put into rap form can be strengthened by their rhythm and in this case, by use of clever similes and choice rhymes. Dare I say it… This could be one for coffee. If you are upset by swearing, don’t listen to the announcer who introduces and wraps up for the artist; I did not enjoy the loudness and fierceness of the commentary. However, I was actually impressed by the scarcity of swearing in the rap itself, a demonstration that ordinary words can be very powerful. If I must pick a tea, despite the coffee comment – I suggest something like a good strong Assam.
I had many other suggestions which have gone on the list for future reviewing, including The Alchemist, the poetry of Richard Siken, and Winnie the Pooh, to compare a few! However, I decided to review something that I went to see during the week instead, which was the launch of our local guitar teacher Andy Billington‘s album Mercy Mercia.
We’ve all made journeys in our lives, and Andy Billington is determined for us to remember them with fondness, and perhaps a tinge of regret. Vibes like a movie soundtrack behind a moving train as the protagonist stares out of the window are thickly spread in Mercy Mercia. Bring your travelling tea to take with you on a drifting journey; whatever you like in your thermos on an Autumn afternoon or what the station cafeteria sells in a paper takeaway cup. It might not be the best tea, but combined with the floating chords and harmonies and the view out of a moving window (or in your mind’s eye), it will definitely give you a feeling of nostalgia.
Criticism, for I must give some in a rounded review, is that sometimes this floating feeling is taken too far. As one of those listeners who craves structure in songs, and clear divisions between sections that contrast, I found that for me there were lines/phrases that repeated one too many times, and moments of floating that lingered just a little too long for comfort.
However there is much to enjoy in Mercy Mercia – an occasional, gentle, caring kind of humour that I suspect directly reflects Andy’s personality, some fun rhythms and quirky chord changes that whisper to me of a strong Crowded House influence, and definitely tunes that you can relax and dream to.
Andy and his band performed songs from the album at The Art House in Southampton on Tuesday the 13th February, where the songs were brought to life by strong vocal harmonies and Andy’s gentle, friendly charisma. You can find the album on Amazon, Bandcamp, Spotify and more – just visit Andy’s Facebook to find a link to your chosen source.
On The Art House itself, to which this was my first visit, I will just say that I was very pleased with the quirky touches, teapots as ceiling decoration, and the size of the pot of tea that arrived when we ordered some Darjeeling to share before the show!