It’s that time of year again when Real Gone takes stock of all of the great music that’s been sent our way over the last twelve months. Changes in how people consume their music has meant shifting from providing a free download to offering an album length stream, but the variety and quality of the new music remains very high.
By the end of 2019, few people would have suggested we’d live through a year any more devastating than 2016. That year, famous musicians seemed to be dying on a weekly basis. 2020 had even more of a drastic effect on the music industry with a global pandemic putting a halt on gigs and forcing various small, grass roots venues to close their doors forever.
On the plus side – and you always have to look for a positive, even in the most dire of circumstances – a dramatic change in circumstances has forced musicians to change their way of working. For those with home studios, it’s meant we’ve seen an increase in output. We’ve even been given unexpected albums – right at the end of the year, there were surprise releases from Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift and various other interesting albums were put together remotely. …And as we take stock on a terrible year, it seems that the gift of recorded music has been one of our only constants: 2020 may have been an absolute bastard in so many ways, but we’ve all found new music to love.
‘Pop Up Jim Bob’ comes seven years after Jim Bob’s previous studio album, but in that time he’s been doing anything but resting. There have been Carter USM reunion gigs; two massive and critically acclaimed solo tours and, as J.B. Morrison, he’s written award-nominated novels. You can say what you like about this man, but you could never accuse him of being lazy. Compared to his Carter days, Jim’s solo work has sometimes been overlooked, but as those who were present at any of his “National Treasure” shows – or have been lucky enough to catch him at other times with pianist Chris-TT – will attest, he’s lost none of his lyrical bite. Those still paying attention after 1997 have known the pleasures of Jim’s sweary cookery teacher (‘Mrs. Fucking MacMurphy Teaches Food Technology’), Ray Davies-esque romances transplanted to the inner city with added heroin for the heroine (‘In The Future All This Will Be Yours’) and supermarket unrest (‘The Tesco Riots’, a number that melds a very Carter USM-ish lyric with the kind of bluesy arrangement you wouldn’t have found within a hundred miles of his previous band’s albums). With most of his best work carrying a strong narrative, Jim has continued to be one of the UK’s most distinctive songwriters, regardless of any musical differences.
“Not a day without a murder / Not a week without a bomb” proclaims Jim Bob, somewhere near the peak of his new single. A burst of punk rock anger shows the one-time Carter USM frontman in a particularly angry mood. …And rightly so, since the world seemed to be falling apart as we all hurtled into the new year, unaware that things were in fact about to get worse.
It’s the middle of December and there’s a conflicting mood in the air. People are gearing up for Christmas so there’s a bustling feel to the city, yet at the same time, it’s the night after a General Election so any excitement is contrasted by the dread of another five years with a Conservative government increasing austerity measures and generally widening an already massive divide between rich and poor.
Taking his place at the mic stand on a sparsely decorated stage, the legendary Jim Bob seems aware of this mood. “I feel like I should say something…profound” he tells the audience, before even playing a note. Quite how profound a man could be while wearing a gold sparkly jacket and sunglasses on loan from The Banana Splits is anyone’s guess. “…Or we could have a sing-song”, he beams, before launching into a stripped down version of Carter’s ‘Is Wrestling Fixed?’, its opening lines greeted with a huge roar. It’s a great performance, but drawing more heavily from the whimsical than the energetic, its a less-than-obvious opener. Nevertheless, the front half of the audience is hugely receptive and even in the bar areas nearer to the back of the venue, bellowing voices are more than evident. Digging further into the Carter back catalogue, the fantastic Billy’s Smart Circus whips up the audience further into a shouting mass – this first dip into the fan favourite ’30 Something’ album boding well for the rest of the set.