Born in the coal-mining town of Easlington, in the Northeast of England, Jez Lowe's music is truly a product of the region and the Geordie tradition. Much like fellow Briton, Richard Thompson, who referred to him as "the best songwriter to come out of England in a long time," Lowe's songs can often sound as if they had sprung from another time, while at the same time they are both timely and relevant. Throughout The Parish Notices, there's the convergence of the old and the new. And while there's a reverence for the past, there's also an understanding of the present, and how the two are intertwined. Furthermore, his citterns, accordions, whistles and references to the Northumbrian folksong, "Bonny at Morn", ancient drums and Johnny Handle (of the traditional group the High Level Ranters), are able to coexist alongside "Stand By Your Man", drum machines, Oasis and Sting. And if there may be a tendency to romanticize the past, as in the otherwise clever and engaging " Glad Rags Again", tunes such as "Spares or Repairs" and "If I Had Another Penny" are sober looks at its underside. Elsewhere, Lowe writes of prejudice, unemployment, resentment and drinking with a hand that is both subtle and powerful. Still, amidst the bleak bitterness of "Spitting Cousins", the intolerance of the title-cut and the absent father in "Sod All, The Parish Notices also has a playful side, as well as wry touches of humor. The sprightly drunkards' lament, "The Limping Drinker's Polka" and "Idle Time's somewhat sardonic, keep-your-chin-up attitude, are both light and pointed, while the evocative homesickness of "Had Away, Gan On" (a regional phrase meaning "away with you, go on") is probably the record's most charming track. Musically, Lowe and his Bad Pennies are steeped in the traditional sound of the Northumbrian region, yet with a freshness and originality that can be missing in some traditionally based records. Originally released in 1998 by Green Linnet and reissued in 2003 with three bonus tracks on Lowe's own Tantobie label, The Parish Notices is as good as contemporary folk songwriting gets. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Brett Hartenbach