FAME Review: Jon Brooks - The Smiling & Beautiful Countryside
Jon Brooks - The Smiling & Beautiful Countryside

The Smiling & Beautiful Countryside

Jon Brooks

Borealis Records - BCD231

Available from Borealis Records.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Anyone who can pen lyrics as cuttingly as Jon Brooks does in The Smiling & Beautiful Countryside is already three tally marks ahead in my book, and, MAN!, does this guy take to the tradition of, as critic Mike Sadova puts it, 'poling holes in accepted truths'. Yes, allusions to Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and Bruce Cockburn are perfectly appropos, but let's not forget Grant Peeples either, hokay? That guy's as bulldoggy as they come, and I suspect he and Jon would be well accommodated in knocking back beers while trading war stories and dark philosophies at a wayside tavern in the middle of nowhere before heading for the hinterlands. Oh, and toss John Cale in there too, lyrically anyway…but also re: intensities. Review Johnny Boy's Fear and Helen of Troy era, if'n ya doubts me, Yodar.

Brooks' oeuvre falls into his own categories of 'Gallows Humor', 'Anarchic Political Commentary', and others while citing a death count in each track, from none to 65, with tons more inferred. Highway 16 is surprisingly close to something JP Jones might have penned for one of his superb releases (here or elsewhere), but, back to Cale and Wales type stuff, Felix Culpa comes off like a mannered Pogues ditty, biting and fevered but cloaked in a spiky modus-primitif distracting you to want to dance with leering leprechauns so's that ya don't notice the noose hanging just above your own sotted head. It's okay to pay the piper, y'know, but beware of tilting beakers with him. That cat's got a grim sense of humor, and Brooks knows it, shares it with him.

I about died laughing, but all too knowingly, when I read Brooks' account of his mother's response to the 12-minute marathon of The Only Good Thing is an Old Dog: "Jon, your dad and I strongly believe this song will ruin all the good you've done in your career up to this point". Well, that track definitely boasts the highest body count, so Mrs. Brooks had the sense of things. I was a bit shocked when I resorted to the liner and discovered the CD features only Jon's voice, a guitar, and banjitar. That's it, nothing more. He's perfected the art of getting the most out the least, and the engineer tweaked the recording just a tad to expand things enough to make even the most accomplished ears wonder.

The Two Sisters carries elements of Ralph McTell's fondness for folk songs and social commentary but, far worse and far better, also elements of Opehelia and Poe-vian murderesses, a grim song of the ebony side of the oscillatingly delightful and shuddery compulsion we call 'love'. Like the aforementioned Mr.Peeples, Brooks holds no illusions about not holding illusions: everything's a dirty business filled with creepy understandings, but it's far better than being a damned Boy Scout Pollyanna………and a fuck of a lot more entertaining for him and then whomever might have the backbone to look beyond the back of the mirror. Hmmmm, now where did I read about some bygone wit saying "Abandon all hope……?

Track List:

  • Gun Dealer
  • People Don't Think of Others
  • Queensville
  • Highway 16
  • Felix Culpa
  • The Only Good Thing Is an Old Dog
  • Laws of the Universe
  • These Are Not Economic Hard Times
  • The Two Sisters
  • Worse Than Indians
All songs written by Jon Brooks.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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