A convivial live performer Jackie Leven has been making quality albums for years. The former Doll By Doll front man has overcome major heroin addiction (as opposed to minor heroin addiction) and an unprovoked attack that left him virtually mute for two years. "Oh What A Blow That Phantom Dealt Me" is no exception to the usual quality quotient , thought it's overall tone is mellower with a genial ambience aided greatly by the relaxed performances and Leven,s wonderful burr of a voice.
Produced by Leven along with David Wrench (whose single "Black Roses" from a few years back is a particular favourite of mine) this is an album that takes in the swinging good time vibes of "I've Been Everywhere" to the tangled thicket guitars of "Vox Humana" to the almost limerick like "One Man One Guitar" to the breezy soothing "Another Mans Rain" with supreme confidence .The results as usual are immensely enjoyable.
The album also takes in two homage's , one to the goddess Judee Sill "The Silver In Her Crucifix" , the other to Kevin Coyne "Here Comes The Urban Ravens". Both are tremendous songs , the first a truly lovely ballad the second an even better ballad with cutely picked notes and baleful swathes of keyboard and one that also highlights fully Leven,s lyrical prowess. "The Skaters "is narrated by Johnny Dowd over spectral harmonica, plangent guitar notes and eerie atmospherics. "Mellow Madness" written by Phil Murphy ends up sounding like Saint Etienne recorded at a séance. "Kings Of Infinite Space" showcases Leven, s, effortless vocal style and has a fomented jazz tinge and a deceptively sweet melody. "Childish Blues" trips over a brash New Orleans arrangement while "The Long Hard Field" is classic Leven, the sort of song that caught my attention when I first heard him on "Defending Ancient Springs".
Jackie Leven is classed as a folk artist but he's far more versatile than that, not there is anything wrong with being a folk artist mind. But "Oh What A Blow That Phantom Dealt Me" incorporates elements of rock, pop, jazz, soul and lots of other stuff in-between, and in doing so and doing it so well the prolific Leven proves himself- if it ever were in doubt- to be one of the most redoubtable and talented performers operating in Britain today. Clearly he's not ready to pass over the other side yet.