Jack The Lad - The Old Straight Track [Talking Elephant - 2018]Originally released in 1974, The Old Straight Track is the second studio album from these North East based folk rockers. Reminiscent of the more famous Lindisfarne, this similarity can be explained by the fact that three of their members had left that band in order to form Jack the Lad. This remastered release comes courtesy of Talking Elephant records who continue to revive oft forgotten classics for our delectation. This is one a bit of a treat.
The opening track “Oakey Strike Evictions” makes me of Fairport Convention with a Geordie accent. It has that typical 1970s prog/folk sound, not that it’s a bad thing as the track is very enjoyable and the performances are excellent. “Jolly Beggar” follows in a very similar vein, turning a traditional song into a well-crafted 1970s folk rock song. “The Third Millenium” is an ecological warning. The lyrics warn us that we may never reach the third millennium. We have, but the fears are still relevant today and in fact we’re even more aware of the impending doom we face from ecological disaster. “Fingal the Giant” is a more traditional sounding tale of a giant who lived in Fingall’s cave, itself immortalised in a traditional song.
One of my highlights on the album is up next, Weary Whaling Ground” is a traditional song that was given a makeover and turned into a folk-rock masterpiece. Reminiscent of the heavier end of the folk-rock spectrum, the song features some searing guitar from Simon Cowe, really showing just what the band were capable of when they put their mind to it. This is followed by probably the least interesting track on the album an instrumental medley that does very little other than highlight the band’s technical skills as musicians. “Peggy (Overseas with a Soldier)” is a traditional song which allows the band to show off their fabulous vocal harmonies, and “Buy Brooms Buzzems” is a traditional Geordie song about brushes, not ladies breasts. The next two songs De Havilland’s Mistake and the title track “The Old Straight Track” are both Simon Cowe originals, but neither stand out, coming across as pleasant traditional sounding folk songs.
The album’s finale is however one of the more interesting pieces on the album. The only track on the album written by Billy Mitchell, “The Wurm” is more a suite of songs based on the Northumbrian legend of the Laidly worm of Spindlestone Heugh, about a princess who was changed into a dragon by a Witch Queen. A prince, Chylde Winde kisses the dragon turning her back into her regular form, and goes about turning the Witch Queen into a toad, becoming king in the process. This is definitely one of the album’s highlights for me and the overall lack of material from Mitchell does feel like a bit of missed opportunity.
The album is a fairly decent slice of 1970s folk rock with some outstanding moments, specifically “Weary Whaling Ground” and “The Wurm”, two tracks that stand up against anything from the era. The remastering job by Talking Elephant is excellent, the instruments are punchy, and the album has real warmth to it. The digipack packaging is good and whilst a booklet would have been nice it’s certainly not a deal breaker. Overall this is a very worthy addition to the Talking Elephant discography and one that deserves to be heard by more people.Darren Charles