Wizz Jones / Pete Berryman / Simeon Jones: Come What May
Jones, Berryman, and Jones make it sound easy and make wonderful sounds on this inspired collection of British folk.
Over the course of a 50-year recording career, Wizz Jones has released ten solo records while influencing and collaborating with some of the greats of the reborn British folk tradition, including John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Clive Palmer, and Ralph McTell. A precise and eclectic guitarist with a singular style, Jones, now 78 years-old, continues to inspire a new generation of guitarists to whom he is a master on the level with Davey Graham and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the performers who inspired him to pick up the guitar and set out on his long and rambling road. His albums The Legendary Me (1970) and Right Now (1972) are essential listening for any student of English folk.
While Jones’ name comes first, Come What May is truly a group affair, a collection of playing and songs made whole by the three named performers. Pete Berryman, himself an outstanding and nuanced guitarist, is perhaps less celebrated than Jones but has made similarly significant contributions to post-1950s English folk. He was a member of the Famous Jug Band with Clive Palmer (Incredible String Band) and contributed to John James’ influential 1972 record Sky in My Pie. Meanwhile, Simeon Jones, Wizz’s son, has forged his own musical path, becoming a master multi-instrumentalist on flute, saxophone, and harmonica.
Come What May’s 11 songs (plus three bonus tracks) drift by casually like a comfortable summer early afternoon. So easily do these jazz-inflected, delicate folk and acoustic blues compositions float by, that casual listeners could be forgiven for utilizing the set as pleasant background music. But this is not coffee-shop folk; rather, it is an album that rewards listeners who lean in close to its quiet ruminations. Both Jones’ and Berryman’s compositions and their song selection are too sharp to remain in the background long.
Album opener “You’re Blase” unearths a 1933 composition that sets the loose tone of the record, though that looseness is confidence and mastery in disguise. The lightness in Jones’ and Berryman’s playing is palpable and when Simeon’s sax cuts in the whole is transported into a dusky reverie. Jones’ tenor voice remains strong, the years adding an airiness that fits the song and material to follow. Jones returns to Alan Turnbridge’s “See How the Time is Flying”, which he originally recorded for The Legendary Me, and the added years of experience in his voice bring a deeper resonance to this gorgeous treatise on mortality. Jones displays his wry humor when it comes to the foibles of human relationships on several of these tracks, including the fractious jealousies of “Poacher’s Moon” and the self-deprecating good advice of “Beware of Charming Friends.”
Berryman’s songwriting and equally evocative voice pair up well with Jones’ compositions on Come What May. Where Jones is apt to play the seducer’s role in song, Berryman’s wistful “A Red Paper Rose” tells its story from the perspective of the lover who lost, Simeon’s harmonica accompaniment adding deeper blues resonance. And it is his composition, a sweet and breezy testimony of a father’s lasting love, which gives the collection its name. Anne Sumner’s echoing guest vocals on this track along with Berryman’s chiming guitar break carry the tune into the realm of the sublime.
While its creators are well-known within the confines of the folk community and it will be warmly received therein, this is a record that deserves to break out of those bounds to a broader audience. Come What May sneaks up on you; it can surprise listeners with its informal yet precise melodies and the seeming effortlessness of the trio’s playing. Jones, Berryman, and Jones have created something special and timeless here.