The opening song of Leon Rosselson’s new release, Harry’s Gone Fishing, explains why Rosselson sings and writes songs. “. . . I haven’t got a message or an answer or a plan / As for preaching and converting, that’s not what songs should do / . . . The human voice, the sound of song / It’s just the song, you see, the song’s the thing / Open your eyes, open your heart / Set free your voice / Sing!”
Rosselson is known as one of the premier songwriters of England and has been performing since the early 1960s. He gained acclaim when Billy Bragg covered his song called the “World Turned Upside Down”. Bragg took the song all the way to the UK pop charts in 1985.
For those who’ve never heard Rosselson, he creates songs that are difficult to pinpoint. His sound is somewhat of a combination of delicate and sensitive Nick Drake, poppy and cheery Belle and Sebastian, and to finish it off, the sounds of a Renaissance minstrel band must be included.
From the beginning of Harry’s Gone Fishing listeners find out what Rosselson is all about. A prolific folk artist for nearly half a century, Rosselson is known for writing scathing satires of British culture and protest songs. Harry’s Gone Fishing is no different.
In “Money Matters” he tells a story about the corruptive power of money. He sings, “Money rises from the sewers, cuasing all the ills it cures / Poisons rivers, topples trees, money is its own disease . . .” In “Child Killer” he takes on the perspective of an American child killer. In the liner notes he explains his viewpoint by saying, “Am I being presumptuous in trying to get inside the mind of an American child killer and in making connections between that child’s gun culture violence and the belligerence of the USA in the New World Order? Perhaps. But what’s songwriting for if not to be presumptuous and make connections?”
Not all the songs are satirical and biting. The title track, “Harry’s Gone Fishing”, tells the story of Harry, who can “put right everything wrong”. Another song that tells a story is “Postcards From Cuba”. Each verse depicts scenes Rosselson saw when he was in Cuba on a three week vacation. The story isn’t a satire, but more of an appreciation for a country that has seen so much beauty and struggle.
A song that sticks out on the recording is called “Mercenaries”. The song opens with a delicate and intricate guitar opening. The guitar keeps the momentum and pulls listeners into the song. The lyrics tell a story about mercenaries and Rosselson wonders why mercenaries get such bad press.
Rosselson’s Harry’s Gone Fishing is definitely a pick for anyone who enjoys a songwriter’s songs. The songs on the album are long and intricate. Each one tells a detailed story. The music is pleasant and calming and full of variety. Though some may laugh at his honesty and overt words, others will appreciate such songs.