I am sure that in the real world Andrew McLatchie is nice to his mum, helps old ladies across the road and carefully takes stones out of horses' hooves but when he picks up his guitar and stomp board he quickly reverts to that character Half Deaf Clatch who often feels obliged to tell us that life is hard, you should drink wine, prepare for the worse -but not worry too much.
'Simple Songs for These Complicated Times' is a very clever and sometimes amusing look at that light at the end of the tunnel - which may well be the Doom Train coming down the line and heading straight for us. This totally authentic bluesman seems to have taken over the role of a dark gatekeeper to a world of original back-to-basic blues where, hanging around The Crossroads and with his eloquent lyrics, guitar and banjo playing, he reminds us that rose-tinted glasses and keeping our fingers crossed are not going to help us. If we need to save ourselves we'd better shape up, listen to what he has to say, chill out and wait for The End – er - or not...perhaps...maybe...
Some might see this as a brave venture in that, nowadays, not many musicians would want to put together a 'concept' album – let alone two, back to back. Following fast on the heels of his superb and original 'A.J.Rail' themed album, which was rightly hailed as one of the best original blues releases of the year, 'Simple Songs' picks up the End is Nigh banner and tackles that familiar territory head on, with a collection of ten tracks ranging from the wistful and hopeful to the 'we are all stuffed anyway'.
Easing us in gently with 'Hush Blues' and 'Blinkered Blues', we are advised not to worry, relax a little, and anyway, the doom-laden shouty soap-box preacher, we all see on the street corner, may just be a self-righteous holier-than-thou idiot. There is an underlying humour present in many of these tracks and even though Clatch writes about the loss of hope and the slim possibilities of redemption – where he clearly has his scatter gun lined up on the contemporary failings of our world in general – there is always a reassuring nudge in the right direction. Both 'Lost Blues' and 'River Blues' seem to have him talking either to himself or to some 'higher' source who could sort out the bad stuff. Even when he describes, acutely perceptively, all of us being caught in the powerful 'Undertow' rip tide (fill in your own narrative here – modern slavery, poverty, child exploitation, corrupt politicians, religious war) he leaves us with just a chance that if you're strong enough you won't sink. Indeed in the aptly titled 'Exodus Blues', one of the best and catchiest tracks on here, he offers his Master Plan for when the chips are down...break the chains, start a new life, get on your bike and run away.
The central track 'Apocalypse Blues' is a clever pragmatic piece, running a beady eye over the state of the world, our troubled times and the ridiculous idea that a super-hero may save us. But..suddenly he throws down his doom banner and asks us to hold on and join him on the sofa with a bottle of wine anyway. No crossroads narrative would be complete without reference to the Doomsday Clock measuring how long we may have left. The final track, 'Countdown Blues' tick-tocks the album to a sombre close with his parting reminder that we may not see the morning unless we change our ways...
Apart from the usual high standard of his playing, this is a fine album full of carefully constructed lyrics and the fascinating narrative, wryly tackling a tricky topic, is what makes it work. It makes you listen to what he has to say and it is as if you have Clatch in the corner of your room telling you how it is – but, rather like his previous lead character A J Rail – you can believe him or not. Pull up a sofa, pass the wine, tomorrow may never come.
Head over to his website for more info: www.halfdeafclatch.com