christopher james

Poems and prattle

Tag: folk music

Why Does the Nightingale Sing? Review of the new single from State of the Union

The new State of the Union song has dropped. Once more, it feels like a tune that’s been beamed down from a planet where it’s always the end of summer and always 1954. The moon shines and hearts reliably break. Business as usual then, for this most treasured of transatlantic collaborations.

Blessed with a timeless melody, and filled with the great unanswerable questions, Why Does the Nightingale Sing? is an unashamedly romantic offering. After the polished set of covers that made up their last album, this is State of the Union back to doing what they do best – demonstrating their peerless mastery of old school songwriting.  

The instrumentation is simpler than some State of the Union records, which occasionally border on showboating (and when you can play like Brooks Williams, why wouldn’t you?) They’ve clearly taken a decision to let the song stand on its own two feet and sing for its supper.

Unlike the bulk of their material, where one singer takes the lead (generally the song’s lead author) with the other harmonising like a ghost in the next room, this is almost a duet in the traditional sense. Exchanging lines like two seasoned crooners, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra could have made a decent fist of this. Still, it feels marginally closer to Boo Hewerdine’s oeuvre than Brooks’. As ever, it’s a masterclass in songcraft. Like Blake’s Jerusalem, it’s built around a series of questions – but at the core of this song is heartache – ‘Was it a love that went away? Is that why the nightingale sings?’

It sounds a plaintive note of sweet regret that haunts so many of their songs: ‘The sound of a joy that has gone/the sound of being apart.’

Now onto their fourth album, this is a collaboration that only gets more interesting. On the strength of this beguiling balled, the portents are good, and it all augurs well for a splendid album to come.

The Scarecrow in the Rain

Each day on the drive to work I pass three scarecrows, their old shirts and trousers flapping in the breeze. They all stand in the same field, suspended on their poles as if they are three friends (or three wise men/three fools/three thieves?) who have fallen out with each other. What are they thinking? What are their hopes and dreams? Why have they fallen out? Here’s the song it inevitably inspired.

Scarecrow rain

For poems about scarecrows, fools and mythical London detectives, take a look at my poetry collection, The Fool, available from Templar Poetry.

Out On The Fells

Each year my friend Winston and I go backpacking  and disappear into the hills with an OS map, supplies of crisps and cola bottles, a tent and lots of old stories. A couple of years ago, we were in the Peak District, and crossed a moor like the surface of the moon. An old tractor tyre was the only man-made thing we saw, as if it had dropped from space. When we arrived in Buxton it was like splash landing back on Earth. Another year we were up near Ullswater and climbed high above the lake feeling like we were the only people left on the planet. This is a new composition in the open tuning DAGDCE inspired by those open landscapes.

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If you liked this one, you might also like the other three originals I’ve posted: Martha’s Song, Billy’s Jig and Far Away Friend. Enjoy!