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JUDE COWAN Doodlebug Alley (2010)

Jude Cowan

A self described 'eccentric English chanteuse' who is influenced by 'the lamp lit cobbles of blood-soaked metropolitan alleys', Jude Cowan pulls no punches with lyrics that are as dark and uncompromising as they are humorous, ironic and satirical.

Jude has been mentioned the same breath as Jake Thackray - but she's much darker than that - and his mentor Jacques Brel, but she's much more whimsical than the great Belgian song writer and certainly doesn't offer songs with such weight as 'If You Go Away'. Indeed her subject matter and targets for her vitriol are for the most part tied in with sexual politics rather than a broader stab at the bourgeoisie or the church.

And while Jude does touch on the 'down to the bone' aspect of life, from disaffected love and unwanted pregnancy to historical ('Doodlebug Alley') and hoped for lust ('The Lure of Paris') she's very much her own person, a poet revelling in Gothic subject matter.

The downside is that given the minimalist arrangements you either intuit every word and its meaning or you dismiss much of the 13 tracks as simply hard work. For Jude doesn't offer you much of a musical shoe-horn, relying simply on a basic stripped down voice/ukulele format with occasional additional accompaniment on organ and piano.

But there is a literary bent at the core of her work as befits a poet. The mini drama narrative of 'She Sits at the Window', complete with words delivered through a megaphone and the following free form word play alliteration of 'Lady Chatterley's Dream' are both very impressive. And you can almost forgive her the John Martyn style slur on the voice/piano duet Liberty' and the OTT dark revenge poem of 'Naughty Daddy'; 'your going under the knife, it's really not going to be alright' (mock laughter), if only because her lyrics are fearless.

Probably the most satisfying arrangement, though no less easy to enjoy, is the unaccompanied singing on 'Nations Nations' which is delivered in nursery rhyme style meter.

As on the irreverent and self explanatory 'The Devil Can Take Me' Jude is a combative lyricist who lays out life as she sees it and draws upon history for some of her literary links as on 'She Sits By the Window'

But you pay your money you take your choice and if you can get over the stark arrangements and the occasional voice as an instrument approach there are rich metaphors here, descriptive narratives and ultimately a thin dividing line between pain and pleasure, both in the material and its delivery!

Perhaps a Radio 4 arts programme awaits or a late night cabaret club, but certainly a kind of adventurous environment for those not of a nervous disposition.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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