There's a tendency to dismiss Rory McLeod as a glorified novelty act, a maverick one band who's a great live act willfully dipping into different styles, but doesn't somehow merit consideration as a serious songwriter. This is the album to blow that myth out of the water. Here the stylistic form is as seemingly random as ever, a veritable musical maze of ideas, but the lightning barrage of words isn't quite as intimidatingly clever as it can be, with the result that you end up admiring the quality of the songs rather than the performance. McLeod's instinctive inventiveness is especially acute this time round too. A Cut In Pay marries a clever lyric about monetarism, which someone should send to Bob Geldof to play at the next G8 summit, to a full-blooded Caribbean steel drum sound. It also includes some mighty yodelling on Hank Williams's Rambling Man, an optimistic cover of Dylan's The Man In Me, a glorious soulful acapella version of the standard Glory Of Love that's worthy of Smokey Robinson, an unnerving, unaccompanied old-timey Oh Death (a variant of which was once sung demonically by Peter Bellamy) and a lovely slide guitar romp through Jerry Reed's Guitar Man, famously covered by Elvis.
It's fun but it has substance and his own songs offer the authentic voice of the intrepid, singular troubadour McLeod has been for so long. He's always sided with the underdog, but with Guitar Man pointing the way, the poor old travelling songsmith is invariably the one being championed here in colourful, anecdotal songs like the 7-minute Not For Sale, the gorgeous, gently defiant Cold Blow These Winter Winds and, mostly for laughs, The Man Who Couldn't Say Goodbye. Emperor's New Clothes - played to a background of his son's sampled voice - must surely rank as one of the best things he's ever written. I'm not too sure the deceptively jaunty arrangement works with choir and all, but Ballad Of The Burston School Strike - relating the extraordinary story of a strike by Norfolk schoolchildren in 1911 with far-reaching consequences - could even become his The World Turned Upside Down.
It's true that the best live performers can't always transfer the magic into the studio and some element of that may also apply to Rory's past recording career. Not anymore it doesn't though. This is the poodle's rude bits.
We've waited far too long for a new album from this maverick iconoclast of a performer, but this fulsome showcase is no disappointment in any respect. Setting off listening to it, well it's just like going to see him live - you don't quite know what to expect, other than that you'll be entertained big-time: stunned into heady silence by his full-on friendliness and innate instrumental virtuosity and his eclectic mastery of every musical idiom in the world (and several others besides, no doubt!), and by turns enchanted, provoked and delighted by his ultra-creative lyrics. Brave Faces also reflects Rory's live act in the sense that the guy's virtually unstoppable - you get the feeling that if a CD wasn't physically limited to 79 minutes there would be loads more music here. He shows no sign of running out of steam or ideas or energy even after 78 minutes! And that would be considered great value, whatever the standard of the music, but you've no worries on that count either, for these 19 tracks represent Rory at his most persuasive. 12 of these are brand new own-compositions, stylistically unpredictable as always but containing such invariably brilliantly characterised storytelling and thus absolutely typical of Rory's art. But even though Rory's previous record releases have always provided a more than satisfying memento of his live act there have been occasional longueurs and moments which haven't always translated to the harsher recorded medium. Brave Faces, however, succeeds entirely and keeps one's interest throughout with its dazzling parade of ideas and sounds.
The new songs are tremendously strong, almost too powerful to cope with on first hearing or even second. They make well-observed statements without ever preaching - Rory is able to convey depth of feeling and highly-charged views without oppressing your brain! - just take a listen to the jaunty calypso-backed A Cut In Pay, or the caustic irony of Cold Blow These Winter Winds couched in a deceptively gentle whimsy, or .the heavily-accented "alienation tango" of No More Blood For Oil. Two opposite poles of intimacy are provided by the potent global concerns of Thirsting For War and the beautifully intimate and affectionate Doing Time Together (the latter one of a handful of tracks featuring the gorgeous Aimee Leonard, here on both vocals and bodhrán - otherwise this is very much a Rory McLeod solo tour-de-force that transcends any casual novelty value).
Several of the songs last longer than 5 minutes, but not so you'd ever notice for not a word or chord is wasted or superfluous. And another thing I constantly find unbelievable (that is, when I take a breather to think about it!) is that however desperate or depressing the subject matter, ideas and/or lyrics, Rory's music is always fun to listen to, and full of interesting and unusual textures. He's clever but not clever-clever, if you hear what I mean, for he's got the skill of communicating immediately and acutely with his audience, you're gently compelled to listen just like you would to a good mate.
Rory's truly unique: a creative minefield, against whom a hell of a lot of other self-styled singer-songwriters can so easily seem one-dimensional. And that creativity extends right out into the cover versions (there's five here, and two purely instrumental tracks too): two of the highlights on this set are acappella treatments - the traditional Oh Death is given a chillingly wayward reading, whereas The Glory Of Love (never a favourite song for me) wins me over completely by being superbly inventive, fresh and Fun. Then there's the old Elvis number Guitar Man, which has Rory's tap-dancing bottleneck in full flight, while I don't think Hank Williams' Rambling Man has received a better cover. On the closing track, The Man Who Couldn't Say Goodbye, Rory may be obviously playing for laughs but it's also a perfect, larger-than-life re-creation of the man, his personality, his ultimate irrepressibility (the image persists of Rory lifting up the coffin lid with a cheeky "Hello"!)…. Brilliant, and definitely Rory's best yet; if this don't convince you the man's a major talent then nothing will!
Phil Daniels -Online review
With a mammoth 19 tracks on this new offering, the people who said Rory McLeod had been away too long certainly have something meaty to get their teeth into. 19 tracks that jump for one musical style to another as frequently as the lyrical content. McLeod has produced something here that is not only complex and intriguing, from start to finish it is utterly compelling.
It’s fair to say that Rory McLeod is one of the best storytellers on the scene and has gained the huge underground following because when people listen to him they are instantly hooked. That happens here as from one song to another the mood is constantly changing, you really don’t know what direction the record is going to leap in next, which certainly adds to it’s charm.
Hugely powerful songs come thick and fast here, which at times are really disturbing. However the blatant ‘telling it like it is’ style is very refreshing even in such edgy numbers. Songs about the opposition of war sit side by side with songs about domestic violence and the depression of alcoholism. Now I know that sounds like this album should be filed in the slit your wrists category but the fact many of these dark subjects are performed to a musical backdrop including flamenco and calypso, keeps the songs accessible whilst still getting the message across to the listener.
With 12 brand new songs, 5 covers and 2 instrumentals, you definitely get your money’s worth. The brilliant version of Hank Williams ‘Rambling Man’ stands out, with a superb vocal performance, however it’s Rory’s self penned songs that make this record for me and reiterates what an all round fine musician this man is. It’s also great to see ex Anam singer Aimee Leonard popping up on the odd track, as she possesses one of the best voices in celtic music, that can only enhance things.
It is a fantastic record, but you do have to give it time. Really listen to the lyrics, as it is just 19 stories being told perfectly by one of the best performers on the circuit.
Record Collector November 2005.
Brave faces Review By Ken Hunt.
Back in the Vinyl 1980s there was this bloke with elongated vowels called Rory McLeod. Being introduced to his musical dynamism was one of the best turns anyone did me in a decade of painful partings. I never did the upgrade shuffle; so ‘Brave Faces’ (TALKATIVE ****)
Is the first time I’ve heard him on Compact Disc.
His prelude recitation to ‘Another Glass Of Forgetfulness’ is priceless, going from humour to studied desperation. ‘Ballad of The Burston School Strike’ reminds me of Guthrie and Ochs. ‘A Very Nice Bloke’ reminds me of Brecht and that is no bad thing because I need to think of Brecht’s writings more (since the Brecht Bookshop closed in East Berlin just by Brecht’s burial site.
I have visited Brecht’s connected places instead of reading him.)
‘Brave faces’ made me think and smile. And then it all came swimming back. The ‘exactly why’ McLeod ranks as one of the most incisive insightful songwriters and interpreters. Here he does Dylan’s ‘The Man In Me’
One of my fave trad blues from the strangulated vowel delta, the post Georgia Sea Islands singers ‘Oh Death’. And his measured, harmonica led percussive, body-stomping version of the klezmer clarinettist maestro Dave Tarras’, to the disciple of the Trisk Rabbi.)
Listening to Brave faces brought it all flooding back. 19 tracks may be recklessly overgenerous but I could fill a page or two of this magazine just narrating or responding to McLeod’s generous musicianship.
His ‘A Cut In Pay’ should be force-fed down every employer that whines and whinges about paying, say a freelancer.
Do expect this at the end of the years best.