Swings and Roundabouts


David Kidman

What is it about this guy? He defies any meaningful description (folk, indie, country, soul, world, chansonnier, all of them at once but that's never the whole story), and he's totally brilliant at everything he does. He's The Compleat Entertainer, period. He's a true freewheeling free spirit, but generous to the last in sharing his lanky chirpiness and sheer good vibes with everyone who comes anywhere within his orbit. He's like the friendly busker who captivates you with his talent and presence, but he's also just like your best mate. A typical Rory McLeod performance is overwhelming in the nicest possible way, with expert musicianship setting the seal on a veritable torrent of intelligent wordplay that always has something important to say without preaching, or else he's got an absorbing (or plain tall) story to tell that believe me, you're going to want to hear. Rory's is a personality that fair overflows with the life-force itself, a supreme positive-energy that you can't resist getting caught up in. It can be almost too much to take in. For all of these features spill uncontrollably out of the player at once, to enhance your life, the moment this disc is played. Over the course of 76 glorious minutes we're privileged to receive 17 new original songs (and one instrumental): every single one of these catchy and musically accessible and unreservedly well-crafted, yet at the same time consistently persuasive and edgy with a depth to the lyrics that belies the apparent facility of Rory's delivery. Home truths and unpalatable social or personal issues are shamelessly explored, but with the accessible face of reality and entirely devoid of the self-conscious over-involved navel-gazing that's forever associated with the singer-songwriter tag. The all-too-real trials and tribulations of love in its many guises are the focus of several songs here: the familiarity that breeds content, those insatiable illicit-affair scenarios, those innocent romances and fantasies and three-sided relationships (Forever Til Monday, My Better Half, Old Flame, I'm Married). These are serious topics that cause real problems, yet as a true songmaker Rory's proved himself a past master at conveying these with a lightness of touch that invariably makes their impact so much more poignant. Somehow Rory manages to pull off the trick of making the universality of situation he depicts through unfussy everyday language carry resonances that may well be deeply personal to each one of his listeners. Rory's real concern for humanity is never far from the surface, and he can paint a sympathetic portrait of one of life's misfits (I Just Want To Be Loved) as capably as he can perceptively examine his own, or our own, foibles and preoccupations and how they might (and do) relate to others. And he's believable even when he adopts the persona of a fourteen-year-old unmarried mother(When You Were Born). For even the most ostensibly self-confessional or therapeutic of the songs on this latest disc (which is Rory's ninth) are done in a way that well sidesteps self- pity. A considerable number of these new songs are in fact seriously touching, from the simple and charming credo I Play to the anguished Moment Of Weakness and the gently heartbreaking Your Mummy And I (which itself arose out of an idea in a half-forgotten Loudon Wainwright song). The extended stream-of- consciousness litany of defiance that is I'm Not Ready To Die (a song that's effectively constructed around a heartbeat) is perhaps a victim of its own enthusiasm, but to his credit Rory retains that all-important sense of humour with some priceless turns of phrase to lighten a central thesis that might easily have become mawkish. Musical backings are always interestingly conceived yet remain the right side of undistracting - here, the distinctive colourings of pedal steel (BJ Cole), clarinet, assorted string-harps, vibes, cello, violin, mandolin and sax, together with occasional rhythm section, ably and creatively embellish Rory's own irrepressible prowess on guitar, harmonica, tap-dancing and everything percussive the largest possible kitchen sink might contain (the breathlessly inventive instrumental Lassoing The Bees fairly buzzes with ideas!). While the package and presentation also gives great value-for-money with full lyrics and credits and notes. As Rory himself says: "I don't want to sing these songs to make people sad and miserable but more because I want to take the sadness out of people". And you emerge from hearing this album infused with that very life-force and spirit and somehow you feel better about yourself..

- David Kidman April 2010