Swansong or not, this is a worthy entry in the impressive oeuvre of the British cult heroes.
Pat Fish has no use for modernity. The singer/songwriter and leader of the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy (or Jazz Butcher, depending on the album) is doggedly idiosyncratic in his approach to music, following his own path and no one else’s. After a long career that has seen varying degrees of success and a few masterpieces, one could forgive Fish if he were to get a bit sardonic in his old age. Yet, The Last of the Gentleman Adventurers is not as cynical as that. The album, now released to the public after a fan-funded limited pressing, casts Fish as a weary-yet-amicable traveler, a man who has seen it all and is more than happy to tell you what he’s learned.
The dynamism of past releases like the brilliant A Scandal in Bohemia is nowhere to be found on The Last of the Gentleman Adventurers, but that’s probably for the best. Fish is too wise of a songwriter to try and recapture past glories. Instead, his songs here are more meditative than one would expect. Even more rollicking tracks like “Shame About You” have a fairly easygoing bent. Aside from “Solar Core,” which is the closest Fish has come to writing a straightforward rock song, the Jazz Butcher remains a mostly subdued ensemble throughout.
Lyrically, Fish remains focused on the misfits and booze-soaked weirdos that have always popped up in his work over the years, but they appear here with a sense of resignation about them. The speaker of the title track laments a world that seems to have passed him by, yet he refused to give in and get with the times. On “All the Saints", Fish’s venom stings the most as he wonders how the risk-averse self-chronicling Internet generation can ever truly experience life. Rather than try to chase youth, Fish seems quite comfortable with where he is now.
He also sounds more comfortable on a six-string than ever. The Last of the Gentleman Adventurers is, somewhat surprisingly, very much a guitar-focused album. Fish was always an incomparable talent, but he and fellow Jazz Butcher Max Eider put on a show. Their work recalls some elements of Richard Thompson, though Fish is far less influenced by traditional folk. Instead, his languid playing on “Shame About You” could best be characterized as a jazz-rock hybrid with fewer unnecessary fireworks, while his work on “Black Raoul” is almost as threatening and enticing as the title character.
The Last of the Gentleman Adventurers doesn’t aim to please everyone, and it’s arguable that Pat Fish doesn’t have much left to prove in music. Rumors are that this will be the last Jazz Butcher album, though that -- like everything to do with the band -- is subject to Fish’s whims. If this is to be the final bow of the Jazz Butcher, it’s a fittingly dignified exit. Its pleasures slowly unfold with repeated listens as you catch previously unheard licks or mis-remembered turns of phrase. In short, it’s the Jazz Butcher doing what they do best, and that’s almost certainly worth giving a try.