“Long Haul” – John Wort Hannam

4 stars (out of 5)


John Wort Hannam’s eighth album,“Long Haul”, is another album that, inevitably, has been touched by the pandemic. The album’s eleven songs came together during an enforced period of reflection while locked down early in the pandemic, which brought a new emphasis to John’s songwriting with the realisation that he could write about his own life. You don’t to be a hell-raising, bar-trashing roughneck to have the raw material for songs; everyday life can provide the material if you look hard enough. The evidence for this is clear, the majority of the album’s songs are about everyday life. The other conscious decision he came to was to attempt to inject some humour into the album and that’s not the easiest thing to do; it can fail spectacularly. No spoilers, we’ll come back to this later.

The first half of the album shows no signs of moving away from country stylings, from zydeco-influenced title track to the old country string band arrangement of the duet “Beautiful Mess” which is a nod in the direction of Johnny and June’s “Jackson”, which is also the first injection of humour as a relationship apparently about to end is revealed as merely a bit dysfunctional and the only one thrown out is the ’god damn cat’. There’s another turn-around song as well; “Hurry Up Kid” explores the paradox of dashing through life trying to experience everything set against relaxing and taking time to fully appreciate life. The song’s in the form of advice to a child, starting in the womb and developing into an adult. With some nice organ fills and a gentle country feel it’s a great song, getting over an important message without any unnecessary fireworks.

There are a few familiar song topics on “Long Haul”; “Wonderful Things” celebrates life’s little pleasures, while “What I Know Now” is about the benefits of hindsight, with a nod in the direction of Ronnie Lane’s “Ooh La La” and Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind”. The song that takes the album out of the hundred per cent country bracket is “Twilight Diner” which tells the story of the bar we all know where all the misfits hang out; the musical styling with its Ray Manzarek-like piano and organ is pure Doors.

Talking of interesting characters hanging out in bars, the album’s other humorous song is full of them. “Meat Draw” has some gentle fun with the characters assembling for the weekly meat draw at the weekend. The styling is early Johnny Cash again with banjo and resonator solos towards the end; it’s great fun.

As a change of direction and emphasis, “Long Haul” works perfectly. John Wort Hannam (with a lot of support from multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson) has proven to himself and the rest of us that his daily life can become the subject of memorable songs.

“Long Haul” is out now on Black Hen Music (BHCD0095).

Here’s the video for “Beautiful Mess”:

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