Jez Mead “Beard of Bees” [LP Review]

Review: Lana Harris

  What deal did Jez Mead make with the devil to get that voice? He certainly didn’t trade his finger picking abilities (his mastery of the guitar is evident in this diverse mix of tracks), but the man surely gave up something for a voice that soars across octaves, that swings from gravel to whisper to a full blown resonance that seems to take up real, tangible space in the room. Beard of Bees is Jez Mead’s fourth recorded offering to the world, and a record that uses his vocal gift (no matter how it was acquired) to deliver a striking set of songs.

Let’s begin at the end: the last song on this album

was the best. A gorgeous, chilled out track called ‘Crooked’ was a resplendent way to finish, with slow chords and soulful crooning and Jez humming low and full, a honey coated vibration that left goose bumps in its wake (and was not the only track to do so). ‘Devil’ (featuring Julia Stone as Mead’s duet partner) is similarly slow and haunting, a love song which includes such lyrical blues gems as ‘Devil wants my blood for making whisky’. The swamp is evident in tracks such as ‘Beard of Bees’ and ‘Town’s Too Small’, tracks with similarities to the slow burners of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. And like BRMC, Mead doesn’t sit in one space for the whole album. While some tracks are steeped in dark marshiness, Mead also takes his guitar to task on the string punishing tracks ‘Be Gone’ and ‘Sucker’, which demonstrate his six string mastery as well as his desire to dent the fret board from fingertip pressure alone. First single ‘Blackberry’’ has guest harmonisers lending the song a folky feel, as does ‘So Much Love Gone Wrong’, on which Mead takes all his fretboard punishment back and delivers soft melodies gently coaxed from the guitar.

As hinted at by the extras on ‘Blackberry’, this record is a bit more than just a man and his guitar. As well as Stone’s voice on ‘Devil’, ‘Blackberry’ and ‘Sucker’ make great use of the screeching pleasures that are the violin’s voice, and there’s more clapping and stomping than one man could manage on ‘Town’s too Small’. The rest of the tracks are pure Mead, and the fullness of sound that is loaded onto the LP (his harmonica playing deserves a special mention) is a wonderful display of how much one man and his pipes can achieve.

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