Jeshel Forrester brings us an album in the same vein as late-career Johnny Cash – bare-bones recordings of a bared heart. Forrester’s raw vocals sit unadorned atop delicate, yet confident, fingerpicked guitar. Just like Cash’s later singing style, Forrester’s singing/talking is soft and fragile, but real power comes from the feeling he puts into it.
The songs are principally original compositions, apart from two poem adaptations (Maud Gonne and Danny, the words by WB Yeats and R Kipling respectively), and an old spiritual that this album is named after.
Unlike, say, the soaring and searing version served up by Offa Rex, Forrester’s take on The Old Churchyard is vulnerable and down-homey. His Martin D-28S guitar sounds almost like a Carter Family autoharp on this one, lending the song a back-porch authenticity.
The original songs really tell a story, a la Cohen, Dylan, or Skyscraper Stan. The key to this ‘collection’ is the premise of a stroll through a rural graveyard “… populated by the spirits of friends, family and imagined persons of influence.” The songs are a deliberate throwback in time, with the freedom to pen a fresh, mostly American mid-west history to the names found on those gravestones.
Overall, the tone is downbeat, often just flat-out sad and weary. But there’s also a little dark humour. For example, in the song Leo & Sam, Forrester conjures old cautionary epics such as Frankie and Johnny.
Given the sparseness of his musical arrangements, it’s a testimony to the allegorical lyrics and appeal of Forrester’s voice that listener interest is easily maintained throughout.
That and the recording/mixing production skills of Thomas Lambert, who likewise kept things strictly minimal. Listeners in a contemplative mood will find much to enjoy in this album.