You could make a good case for claiming that John Donaldson's JD Meatyard project is yielding his best work to date, better even that what he produced with the remarkable Calvin Party and Levellers 5. A remarkable, even contentious claim, but if his debut album hinted at its truth, Northern Songs states it boldly.
Donaldson has matured into a singer-songwriter of remarkable power and versatility. Here, he moves with ease between the gently romantic 'Dance With You', for instance, to the bluntly acerbic 'A Political Song (Blow It Out Your Arse)', showing an artistic dexterity it's hard to imagine many even attempting. Ditto, the courageous honesty of' 'Jesus Call' or the humility of 'Standing on the Shoulders of Better Men', where he runs through a roll-call of great artists and comes up with some of the most poetic comments ever written on the subject of Mark E. Smith, to name just one. It's fitting that the title of the song adapts a quote from Bernard of Chartres that's more popularly attributed to Isaac Newton because a balancing of the spiritual and the material gives a metaphysical framework to JD Meatyard's work that few can approach. It's this that raises him well above the run of the mill political observer, not that there are enough of them around at the moment anyway.
I've chosen to play the powerful 'Jesse James' in my October show on Dandelion Radio this month. That's partly because I've already played a lot of the other songs here over the months building up to this release and partly because it's an irresistibly forceful retort to the crisis in modern capitalism that's always been there and which those with an interest in sustaining it are hell-bent on covering up. The need for an outlaw figure to take back, literally in these times, money that's been taken from the poor and given to the rich becomes, in John Donaldson's hands, a political move so urgent it's disturbing there's a shortage of similar voices, a suggestion lent force by this sparse yet powerful guitar-driven clarion call. Yet it's a sign of this artist's considerable scope that he can make a song like 'One Last Waltzing' sound just as imperative in its potential to rescue the human condition.
JD Meatyard lives in a world in which governments have witnessed the spectacular collapse of an economy driven by greed, plugged the gap using public money and then blamed public spending for the crisis in the first place. And they look like they're getting away with it. It's the same world you live in too. His manifesto is Northern Songs, an album that calls up political outrage and human tenderness as two sides of the same coin and, as such, it's one of the most important artistic statements of the age.
Get it from the Probe Plus store here.
You can still hear the session JD Meatyard did for my September Dandelion Radio show here.