Jeb Loy Nichols and Adrian Sherwood have been close friends – and partners in music, and protest – for over 4 decades now. Adrian started his imprint, ON-U Sound, in 1981, and Jeb, who was sharing a squat with mutual amigo, Ari Up, first recorded for the label that same year – contributing a track to the Cherry Red sampler, Wild Paarty Sounds.
Adrian’s production, here, on Jeb’s latest long-player, The United States Of The Broken Hearted, is, uncharacteristically perhaps, understated. Forgoing the more usual far-out phasing of aural parameters, and instead concentrating on the separation and clarity of the sparse acoustic instrumentation involved. Allowing the listener to focus on Jeb’s lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, there’s the odd delicate dubwise twist and drop into infinite echo, but it’s the songs themselves that are showcased. Tracks that, for example, take to task a media machine, manipulating us with distractions and divisions. Proliferating paranoia, and nurturing neuroses, by getting us to worry about tiny things that just don’t matter. The title track is a ditty for the disenfranchised and downtrodden, those not privileged with possibilities, but instead seemingly doomed to dead-ends. An ever-growing majority. A paean to the poor. Jeb, articulating his anger with a catchy, nursery rhyme, simplicity, set to his own strummed guitar, and augmented, on occasion, with swooning strings, plaintive piano, a flash of fiddle. Blasts of saxophone, harmonica, flute, and muted mariachi brass.
Big Troubles Come In Through A Small Door suggests solving the problems that we’ve made for ourselves, by simply getting off the grid. Something that Jeb did himself around 20 years ago, by moving to rural Wales. Two of the pieces here reflect that retreat. I’m Just A Visitor gives thanks for this life, well aware of its fragility, and transience, while Looking For Some Rain, feels as if it might break under the weight, the wonder, of Nature’s beauty.
Rooted in the blues, the music is a melting pot of all American folk – be that soul, jazz, country, bluegrass, or a slow, clipped funk – plus a reference to Rasta, in No Hiding Place For Me’s “Run to the rock”. There’s a little of Willie Williams` sufferers to some of the tunes. Please don’t forget that Jeb once versioned Pablo Gad’s Hard Times.
His choice of covers this time out draws a line in the sand, and makes plain his, and On-U’s, political position. Written in 1955, Red Hayes & Jack Rhodes’ Satisfied Mind denounces the false gods of greed and financial wealth. From 1948, Woody Guthrie’s Deportee – a caustic attack on the U.S.A.’s dehumanizing immigration laws – criminally, could have been penned yesterday. Similarly, I Hate The Capitalist System, first recorded in 1937 by Sarah Ogan Gunning, a Kentucky mining union, and Harlan County War veteran, sadly also hasn’t aged one iota.
Jeb Loy Nichols` The United States Of The Broken Hearted is out today, via On-U Sound.