Review By Jason Hooker* (U.S.A.)
John & Sheila Ludgate
There are very few times that I hear a new album and be immediately able to “see” those songs playing out in my mind’s eye. Northern Soul happens to do that very thing. I can see myself driving down long stretches of highway in the snow covered northern landscape on a mission to lose myself, or find myself, or both. It actually conjures a soundtrack to a well-written drama in my mind. I will write a short statement about each song as it plays out to the movie running through my mind’s eye.
John and Sheila have written some very nice original songs and have put them to very original melodies performed by themselves and their sons along with a friend to help out here and there. Typically, you notice a trend in musicians, both lyrically and stylistically. The Ludgate’s surprise the listener with each song being different from the rest. Their voices blend very naturally together to form tight harmonies and the musicianship of each person in this ensemble is impressive.
I love a good drama and more often than not, the soundtrack behind the storyline and acting will help make or break the movie. Music is a very powerful tool, but John and Sheila Ludgate are not just using a tool…they have mastered the tool to create in themselves a master artist who produces a work of art. This album is a work of art as a whole and individual works of art separately. Individually, each song could find airplay on a radio station and be well liked, but together, they work to create a movie in my mind.
In an ironic twist, Electric Guitars starts with and leads with an acoustic rhythm with electric subtle additions. This song sort of sets the tone of the album with the idea of something changing and requiring reaction. This would be the first song to play during the scene of my car traveling along the highway headed deep into the north on my new quest. The electric guitar work is very well done. These instrumentalists are very accomplished.
Northern Soul is a song that would play while I am investigating the quiet northern town where my journey has taken me. It is a haunting melody of things past and yet things to come. The far off sound that the Ludgate’s achieve in this song is nothing short of impressive. One Thing’s For Certain is a great march chanting the battle cry of perseverance. What a well written song! This would be great showing my discovery of a significant obstacle in my new quest and the desire to rise above the problems and strive for a solution, or at worst, a continuance of my journey to become what I am changing into.
In Between Days starts with a great acoustic riff and drives straight into some haunting strings behind lyrics to match. There is some fantastic acoustic work done in this one. I could see this song playing behind some scenes of remembrance of better days gone by. The lyrics of this song speak volumes
Coming Home To You has a good old style country feel complete with some slide guitar riffs. I envision his being the background to my decision to overcome my memories and move on..starting a brand new work of some kind. It is amazing to me how this album just flows into these scenes for me. It may not be this way for everyone…but this is fantastic in my opinion!
Blink has a great driving acoustic riff behind it again. This song is a very haunting tale of the quick vapor that time is. It serves as a warning and as a challenge not to wait or waste time, but to use it appropriately. I could see this weaving its way through a scene in the journey where I have come to realize the time I have wasted on things that do not matter. Then, I have to come to grips with that and learn to change before it’s too late. I also love the way that the song ends…it fits it perfectly and drives home the point of the lyrics.
Requiem For Love has one of the best beginnings I have ever heard…so smooth and so different. This song of love lost is a classic drama love memory scene. I’m telling you, this album could be used in a movie as is!! Impressive. The background slide guitar work is fantastic. It creates a symphony of hurt behind the music that just drives it home.
Fine Line has a much more rockabilly feel to it. Great guitar work with really good percussion background this driving song about decisions. There is a very nice electric solo pushing this song. I can envision this part of the movie seeing me get a lot done after my decision to finally put the past behind me.
Inside Job has an up-beat tempo driven by the drums and the Gatling gun electric guitar in the background. This song tells of individuality that runs against the culture of conforming. It’s a great battle song for my mental movie.
Let’s Just Say slows the mood down again with some great slide work in a gentle reminder about Lennon’s long lost desire to give peace a chance. It’s a sobering realization that though much time has passed since then, we have not advanced much; so, let’s just say we realize it and we’ll try to work together instead of against each other. It would be a great scene for me to work out my problems with my arch nemesis and arrive at a place of conflict resolution.
A Candle For The Prodigal is a great closing song for my mental journey representing my long travel from my past to my present. The guitar riffs flow so smoothly over the lyrics and the string work in the background is beautiful. The musical prowess of the Ludgates really adds so much to their well-written songs. Everything works so well together.
There are also two bonus songs on the album. Both are references to man’s best friend. The first one, I’m A Dog, is a fun song that is sung from the dog’s point of view. The mandolin background along with the slide guitar gives this one a bluegrass feel. There again, every song is different on this album. Although these bonus tracks don’t flow with my mental movie that I have painted for the rest of the album, they are still welcome. This one is about the dog’s prime of life. The last song, A Dog’s Last Ride (For Abbie), is a sad tale of the dog’s last moments. It is rough if you have ever lost a dog that you loved…but, it is life none the less.
This album has been one of my favorites to listen to. Most of the time, artists get into a rut on an album either stylistically, musically, or lyrically. John and Sheila Ludgate surprise and thrill with very well-written lyrics accompanied by great instrumentation and a constantly changing style. John’s voice reminds me a little of Michael Bacon of The Bacon Brothers, except he has more of a raw edge to his voice that lends itself well to their songs. At times, I can hear a little Stevie Nicks in Sheila’s background vocals, but, she doesn’t stand out so much that she drowns out John. They blend very well into a beautiful harmony. Sheila is a great bass player and John plays the guitar beautifully as well. Their sons are all accomplished musicians and add wonderful touches to the musicality of the album. Their special guest David Lum is a great slide guitarist and mandolin player. His acoustic guitar work is very smooth as well. This is a great album from top to bottom and one which I will enjoy listening to for years to come. (*Jason Hooker, Reviewer for bluegrassworks.com)