Nic Jones “Penguin Eggs”

Ultra Fidelis’ Musical Favorites

jones_eggs(Topic CD, Shanachie CD, Topic LP)

I was once asked to nominate an “All Time Great” album… It scares me a little to choose this recording as my first “All Time Great.” One of the fantasies anyone who engages in this sort of nomination entertains is a vision of the rousing “amens” from his audience as his selection brings to mind a nearly overlooked gem in the history of recorded music. The imaginary high fives for bringing up that dusty old bottle from the dark wine cellar of his record collection. Lured by that glory, I stewed over my selection for a month trying to divine the one recording that would elicit the loudest unison, “Oh, yeah!” on the day after this mailed.

Then on reflection, it occurred to me that 16 percent of these newsletters are returned as undeliverable. Probably a good half are intercepted by some other party at the addressee’s home with a strong vested interest in bypassing all the steps between mail delivery and refuse removal. Another 19 percent make it to the intended target as another thick piece of faceless direct mail, perhaps causing a raised eyebrow a nanosecond before they begin their decent into that same oblivion. If my calculator is working, that leaves 15 percent of you, maybe, who actually see the inside. From this select group, adding the twelve of you who have told us you read it cover to cover (bless you and please seek help) to the six percent who will only read a story accompanied by a picture and factoring in those of you who are interested in what we like for music, I realized I might as well invite you into our listening room and play this damn record for you rather than write about it, but we live for our delusions. So I muster my courage and nominate Nic Jones’ “Penguin Eggs” in print for all to see. I know… Not one “amen.” High fives aborted in midair. It’s a life devoid of celebrity we lead, we guardians of art.

I can’t deny a strong factor in my enthusiasm for this record is the serendipity of its discovery. As a Rega dealer in 1984, I was virtually forced to stock the recordings selected by Rega as worthy of the attention of the world. Given the testiness of their US importer, I willingly succumbed to a onesy, twosy order of twenty or so titles. It was an odd box of vinyl that arrived, but I hung them on the wall to see what would sell. One night I snatched this record down and took it home to listen to because I was tired of old Nic looking up at me. A true grab bag special.

So where do we talk about what kind of guitars and microphones they used? And how about the band member resumes? Forget it. I don’t know a single thing about this recording technically except that it sounds good: woody, dense and intimate. I have never heard of any of the few musicians who contributed to it. I have serendipped across no other Nic Jones records before or since. But I do not fear that it will fail to meet any of the above criteria for selection. Besides, another fantasy is that reviews suddenly get very simple: DO or DON’T. Like Goofus and Gallant. Or Glamour magazine. Siskel and Ebert seemed to have it briefly, but now there are “Two thumbs up, way up!,” “Two very enthusiastic thumbs up,” etc. I’m waiting for, “Two rather indignant thumbs tilting downward.”

As for “Penguin Eggs, ” may I just say DO. Especially if:

-Fall is your favorite season.

-You pronounce Celtic with a “k” at the beginning.

-Literature with a maritime theme is in your wheelhouse.

-You cringe when you hear the term “folk music” nowadays mostly because it’s applied to people with no ability, no soul and too much enthusiasm.

-You like deciphering the meanings of old words from context.

-Music soothes you and takes you away.

-Guinness is a beverage, not a book.

-When you retire, you’ll move north.

-Fishing beats golfing.

-Recordings should be documents of artists’ work.

-Producers should be drawn and quartered.

-Hard work is its own reward.

Format-wise: Topic LP: the music comes through with flying colors. Topic CD: the music comes through in all the 16 bit colors it can paint. Shanachie CD: slightly aggravating because it is the worst of the three, but the music still transcends. We’ll stock the Topic CD and try for the LP.

Can I get an “amen?” And maybe a wee dram of your best Highland single malt.

-Jon

(Note- Since this was written, I have spent a goodly sum chasing and acquiring all of Nic’s solo records, the rarest records I have ever sought. Each one rewardsimmensely. For the fascinating story behind the man, check out http://www.folkmusic.net/htmfiles/inart338.htmand for a thorough discography, see http://www.kneeling.co.uk/pages/nicjones/.)

 

Comments are closed.