I’ve given up trying to keep track of every Muleskinner Jones review so here’s a few favourites – both good and bad. A really bad review can be more satisfying than a pretty good one.
A Dying Man Can Sure Sing The Blues
“With a name like Muleskinner Jones it’s an easy guess that there will be country-blues in the mix, and there are indeed on this Brit’s newest release: A Dying Man Can Sure Sing the Blues, there’s noisy noir rock as well, but those are just the touch stones, the stepping stones…
This is bizarro blues and achronic country, the 10 tunes on this recording manage to be simultaneously pre-rock and post-psychedelic, the sort of all-bets-are-off gonzo roots music that might happen if The Legendary Pink Dots decided to twang things up a bit and wear cowboy hats.
And it’s good, really good. The sort of good where you’re listening to powerful, accessible blues-rock, and then you’re staring at your stereophonic system wondering what the hell just happened to the song. Good like that.”
Odd bit of UK folk, showing some leg to Americana
“There’s a real danger that this could be taken as some kind of novelty record, you know. The saxophone Black Night riff on an opener with lyrics about paying taxes and union dues, making records no one will buy and not opening the mail in case it’s bad news, sang in a comically deep voice, didn’t auger all that well, to be honest.
However, the counter-argument immediately follows. The title track is regal. His deep voice works now, the lyrics sang in English, not American, and surprisingly affecting. In fact, many of the tracks are, none more so than clear album highlight, ‘The Homesick Soldier’, that’s part traditional English folk ballad, part Shane McGowan (lots of it is, to be fair) and part ‘Stop the Cavalry’. It is as perfect an example of what Mr. Jones does as is possible. If you like that, you’ll be a fan.”
Postcards From Deadeye
“Apparently [koff] ‘Deadeye is a place you don’t want to go. A burnt-out town in a long-forgotten parallel universe. Here men wear Stetsons, play videogames, drink cactus wine, ride coyotes and spit blood.’ Which sounds like any Friday night down The Duke’s Head minus the rickety whores. But it’s all rather engaging stuff as Muleskinner (possibly not his real name) regales us with some mighty fine tales.
Last time out I called it skewed Americana, he called it sci-fi swamp noir. We’re both right. This five track EP follow up to ‘Alcohol Tobacco Raygun?’ may lack the full sweep of his powers, but as a lot of his songs seem to involve people dying I’ll let that slide. The best tunes are ‘Twisted, Sick and Bitter’ and ‘All The Good Times (Are Past And Gone)’, from which you would rightly assess that he is not a happy bunny.
A mumpy mixture of classic country, John Bartles and Tom Waits, this is another excellent instalment from a man who happily admits that his music ‘leaves a bad taste in the mouth.’ Which is too much information.”
“This new 5-track EP from James Closs’s alter-ego Muleskinner Jones is the follow up to last years ‘Alcohol Tobacco Raygun’ album. ‘Postcards From Deadeye’ is set in a fictional town that you are advised never to visit. In reality the five songs that make up the cd are brutal murder ballads. Although undoubtedly ‘Americana’ Jones has no problem mentioning British towns in his songs – Walthamstow gets a mention in ‘Twisted, Sick and Bitter’. It’s also part of Muleskinner Jones’ way of subverting the genre, a traditional love song ‘All The Good Times (Are Past And Gone)’ is on the EP but is now a murder ballad.
Muleskinner Jones is undoubtedly an acquired taste, mainly because as an artist he is so difficult to pigeon-hole. The influences he cites are very wide ranging, from the likes of Hank Williams and Bob Wills to Giant Sand and Captain Beefheart, often within the same song! Not for the faint hearted.”
Alcohol Tobacco Raygun?
“With his blend of country twang, lolloping boogie and Beefheartian astringency, Muleskinner Jones may be the British version of Johnny Dowd – or the Wiltshire version, at least.
This follow-up to Death Row Hoedown tours the wrong side of the American tracks, from the bloodstained legacy of the Civil War in “Death In Dixie” and the genocidal approach to Native Americans in “Blood & Muskets” to the bereaved brother seeking proxy revenge in Afghanistan in “Men With Knives”.
But a droll eccentricity tempers the tragedy: the title track imagines integrated Roswell aliens as immigrant good ol’ boys, while “Drinking To Get Drunk” (“I’m not drinking to forget you, I’m drinking to get drunk”) is one of several fine homages to Hank Williams – though Hank couldn’t have conceived Jones’s “gangsta-rap gospel” number ‘Satan Is My Bitch’.”
“With sci-fi B movies soundtracked by gonzo country constantly playing inside his head, Jones’s unique worldview fires songs about sleeping off hangovers in a services toilet off the A363 or bragging about kicking Beelzebub’s butt. Epic centrepiece ‘Her Desert Yard’ moves from Birthday Party grindcore to acid-fried Butthole Surfers over ten demented minutes.”
“I owe Muleskinner Jones a fairly hefty apology. Six years ago I massacred his debut EP Terrible Stories on this very site stating “[Jones]’ vocal is the most annoying I’ve ever heard” and concluding “I can only hope this is one big piss-take”.
Either Muleskinner Jones has seriously upped his game or I was having an off day back in 2001 because Alcohol Tobacco Raygun? is quite simply one big messy slab of twisted country fun. Jones lyrical talents comfortably make up for his vocal limitations and his rough and ready guitar playing provides a lively backdrop to his tales of modern life gone awry.
Mr. Jones’ Last Song – in Jones’ own words a song about a ‘struggling artiste’ coming to terms with failure – sets the lyrical standard from the off: ‘Settle down son, stop telling tales / it’s time to admit to everybody that you’ve failed / I know life sucks, I know it’s kind of shit / but you won’t move on if you don’t know where to quit’. It’s simple yet in a way, genius.
Death in Dixie is more musically interesting, a dirty, swaggering rocker about a Southern massacre with perverse, gruesome lyrics like “the wounded piled up faster than the medics could cart the buggers out”. Drinking to Get Drunk is far more British (and comical) than anything Mike Skinner’s ever written. Jones croons ‘I’m throwing up in a bathroom off the A363 and there’s a man who wants to kill me outside the door’; who can’t relate to that kind of drunken paranoia? A triptych of would-be autobiographical numbers about our songwriting hero follow, the best of which has to be the surprisingly tender Mr. Jones Gets Blissed. Who said drunken men couldn’t be romantic?
Of course Alcohol Tobacco Raygun? is inevitably not without its more forgettable moments. Satan Is My Bitch is a definite misstep and the ten minute plus Her Desert Yard is swallowed up by its own ambition but ultimately the sheer brilliant far outweighs the mediocre here. It’s not every day I make a complete u-turn over an artist but Muleskinner Jones has not only proved me wrong here; he’s also far more importantly produced one of the most idiosyncratic and colourful albums of the year. But don’t take my word for it; check him out for yourself.”
“It’s wonderful to hear that this artist (a long-time favourite here at Atomicduster, his first appearance on the site goes all the way back to December of 2001!) has finally got around to releasing his debut full-length LP (although he has been name checked several times). Of course on a personal level this will entitle him to nestle alongside the likes of Mother Earth, Mother Love Bone, Motherhead, Muse and My Bloody Valentine, in my vast library of musical luminaries, I just hope he doesn’t object to his new bedfellows.,
One of those rare artists who posses not only the mad genius of another like Syd Barrat, but also the charmed intelect of those such as Julian Cope and as a first full length outing it is clear that this really is quite something from the very outset. Music that contains a confident swagger appears comfortable brushing shoulders with the likes of Nick Cave, Tom Waits or Shane McGowan and within the songwriting Muleskinner smashes any thought of a depresive nature with an utter ambivalence that is pretty forthright.
So 13 tracks of hard drinking, hard smoking darkness that would eclipse the night and where the press release would suggest a handful of “Key Tracks” I would have to disagree with, considering the possible exception of ‘Her Desert Yard’. Instead head straight for ‘Satan Is My Bitch’ and then take in the trilogy that are Mr Jones’ advice between tracks 4 and 6, rounding of with the simply superb ‘Mr. Jones Gets Blissed’, a slip of the pen I’m sure! Alcohol Tobacco Raygun? and its title track, is a wild ride that makes up for the time it has taken to produce. 8/10″
“A Wiltshire-based musical maverick, releases his debut full-length offering, Alcohol Tobacco Raygun? Two years in the making, recorded in his home studio and comprising twelve Jones originals (and a reprise), the album veers from engaging, gritty tales of the UK underbelly – ‘Drinking To Get Drunk’, Beefheart- flavoured awk.country (‘Mr. Jones Skips Town’), psychedelia in the shape of the wild and uncontrollable title cut, the left-field country of ‘Blood & Muskets (At Wounded Knee)’, the deceptively gentle, dark tale ‘Men With Knives’ to closer ‘Between God And The Bottle’, a track that reveals Jones’s vocal limitations. A little wacko for popular consumption, but those who like their country served raw and twisted might care to investigate.”
Rock And Reel
“Is this for real? No seriously, because I really don’t know. Somewhere between a mockery of country music and some genuinely good lyricism is ‘Alcohol Tobacco Raygun?’.
Apart from the artwork which actually really irritates me, with ‘Mr. Jones’ talking about himself in the third person in hilariously unfunny descriptions of each song e.g. ‘Mr Jones vs Sun City (rock legend embarks upon misguided road trip), there’s everything else. Take this line from ‘Mr Jones skips town’: ‘You’ll be seeing Mr Jones on Top of the Pops, and the rest of you losers can stay here and rot’. As if mate.
…But then maybe I’m missing the point altogether. Perhaps that was irony? To be honest, before I totally slate the guy, he’s got some good lyrics with brilliant moments of dry humour, and the acoustic guitar on the album opener is more to my liking.
Maybe I’m judging a book by its cover – actually yes I probably am (even the press release put me off). But getting down to the actual music… well I just have more to say about the artwork because, I found the album wholly uninspiring and confused, with vocals on the first track that seem to veer towards punk, before a complete u-turn into a track called ‘Death in Dixie’, which just says it all.”
Is This Music?
“Tragi-comic alter egos have a pretty limited shelf life, and the 13 tracks on Alcohol Tobacco Raygun are probably 12 tales of Muleskinner Jones’ life too many (‘Mr Jones gets blissed’ being the saving grace, largely because it marks a lull in the musical war between instruments. If Stephen Merritt couldn’t hold a tune he’d sound like this; if Tom Waits had a lobotomy he might write songs like this. For some readers, that might sound like a a Beefheartian rock-noir heaven, but my ears are too delicate for this monotone dirge. Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should. 3/10.”
Death Row Hoedown
“A comic-horror indulgence somewhere between Sam Raimi and Arthur Brown, this is in fact the work of Wiltshire-based James Closs, recording the whole thing in the spare room on a Powerbook ‘when all the children were in their beds’. Obsessed with an American West steeped in gothic myth, Jones’ debut smack of contrivance – and he overdoes the treated vocals – but is still a hoot, teeming with crack whores and bugs on the wall. ‘Truckstop Funeral’ is ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ gone psychobilly, ‘Concrete Swamp’ is demented deep twang, ‘So Long, Mary Jones’ a schizoid waltz. Even Johnny Dowd would keep his distance.”
“A bluegrass concept album about Death Row?.
It goes without saying that when Nick Cave’s wife is away on a modelling assignment he doesn’t phone up all his mates and invite them round for a dope-fuelled Nintendo session followed by a pissed-up jam. But if he did, it would probably sound an awful lot like this.
So this is the sound of a grown man, James Closs, pretending to be a cowboy singing hilarious ballads about gout, evil landlords and awaiting execution in the way that only middle-class postgraduates seem to be able to pull off. But beneath the slightly deranged concept there is an adept songwriter with a genuinely keen ear for country, bluegrass and blues. ‘Truckstop Funeral’ is the sort of song that Cave himself would be proud of if he wasn’t spending so much time trying to get taken seriously on The South Bank Show. 7/10″
Classic Rock Magazine
“‘The basic need of the creator is independence. The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot be curbed, sacrificed or subordinated to any consideration whatsoever. It demands total independence in function and in motive. To a creator, all relations with men are secondary.’
– Ayn Rand
– Ayn Rand
And so goes James Closs, the Wiltshire based multi-instrumentalist and solitary brains behind Muleskinner Jones.
True Independence has always been the backbone of great music. This doesn’t mean complete and total reclusiveness. It just means that some people are willing to go inside themselves and pull out a new planet we can all visit through their art. It may be the same planet we all live on. But, the view is from THEIR angle. This somehow opens our eyes even wider. The fact that they create it alone seems, somehow, even more impressive.
In James’/Muleskinner Jones’ bio he says,” I spent my formative years listening to bands like the Fall and The Butthole Surfers (who didn’t?)…then I got into Bob Wills and the Harry smith Folk Anthology….” Now that’s eclectic. Add to that some early Pink Floyd, and a computer and you have some idea of what I’m talking about when I say this album is FULL of great moments that are so different individually that you would never expect it all to work. But, it more than comes out cohesive…and dare I say,… ingenuous.
Track 2, the title track, is one of the great songs of all time. From the amazing electrified 12 string lead guitar to the Syd Barret break thrown in for good measure, this is psychedelic, punk, meisterwerk. The dynamics of James’ music is impressive and exhilarating. I also recommend a listen to “Concrete Swamp” with it’s strange vocals and insane keyboards…off key, off kilter imagery.
In trying to find a similar artist, of a sort, Beck comes to mind. There’s a lot of cool edits and a country whack-a-billy edge to every song. In fact, that’s what this is, it’s whack-a-billy. This is a cinema soundtrack for a wild west in space film. This is the sound of the future. I defy anyone that hears this CD to not be overjoyed by the discovery.”
“Muleskinner Jones (aka James Closs), from his hideaway in the swampy, inbreeding backwater of …erm…Wiltshire, brings us a mini-album of seriously fucked-up folk, Bizarro-world blues and country music from the Twilight Zone.
The title track is a rootin’, tootin’, foot-tappin’ hoedown of twanging guitar and locomotive rattling drums, advocating topping your significant other – ‘Swing your partner by the head, Don’t let him go ’til he’s good ‘n’ dead, Strap your partner to the chair, Flick a switch ‘n’ he’ll fry right there’. Come Inside, Stranger may sound like a cross between Wild Rover (No Nay Never No More) and Abdul Abulbul Amir, but darkens like a Wimbledon fortnight sky as it unravels; ‘Since the landlord put the rent up by half, He’s been lying dead in the bath… And the pretty young girl from next door, Is lying dead on the living room floor, I stove her head in, With a bottle of gin, Now she don’t look so pretty no more’. Laughs aplenty.
Truckstop Funeral is an 8 minute epic of Beefheartian psychedelia, there’s a recital of Wee Willy Winkie that would make the most Freddy Kruger-hardened 10 year old run away screaming in terror, and Concrete Swamp is Tom Waits sung by a Dalek with lyrics bleaker than Anne Widdecombe’s chances of becoming the new face of Channel No 5; ‘Stew bum, Street scum, Bad slum… Gang war, Hardcore, Crack whore’. Uplifting stuff. In the unlikely event that Hell has a fairground, the keyboard tune from So Long, Mary Jones must surely be playing on every ride.
‘Recorded, mixed and mastered in the spare room on an Apple Powerbook when all the children were in their beds’, this release is more twisted than a bowl of fusilli pasta in a tornado; weird, warped, wonderful, and utterly essential.”
“Murder in the bedroom, power book in the spare room, twanging all over the house. The current crop of bedroom Power Book artists tend to produce electronic music a la Kid Koala, but newer practitioners like Adem and Fourtet have shown how this can be moved into other idioms. James Closs, for he is Muleskinner Jones, has retired to his spare room with his Harry Smith anthologies and emerged with the kind of record Jim White might make if he lived in Wiltshire.
This is like a cross between the Good the Band and the Ugly, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a desert gothic-lite: ‘Truckstop Funeral’ contains at least four other songs bouncing around within its eight minutes, industrial kling-klang, Julian Cope, twang and for you youngsters, the Libertines. It’s not a straightforward listen: ‘So Long, Mary Jones’ has an organ that splashes itself everywhere like a wet dog shaking out its coat, and the style reminds me of a fondly remembered, the Room. The folky ‘Come Inside, Stranger’ resonates with atmosphere, complete with thunderstorm, rats and a twisted narrator, its polite tea dance structure belies the sharp teeth within, a very English murder ballad. By contrast, ‘Concrete Swamp’ is exactly what it suggests, an urban twang-fest.
The weakness that the project exhibits is the over-reliance on treating the vocals and distorting them to an almost comic-horror extent but then the whole record does have a kind of graphic-novel approach to it. The short interlude before the ‘Closing Theme’ explores the horror link further, providing a genuinely creepy moment. If you’ve ever wondered what Big Black would have sounded like if they’d discovered country music, this is your chance to find out.”
“Grisly murder ballads sung with relish, halfway between that weirdo in Jon Wayne and someone who plain can’t sing, with bottleneck a-plenty. Recorded in a hen-house. Ace fun.”
Careless Talk Costs Lives Magazine
“There are no biographical details for Muleskinner Jones so I’m going to have to make them up. ‘Muleskinner Jones were formed in late 1953 in Mid-West America and raised on a diet of cowboy movies, trips to the American Adventure theme park and Mary Poppins. They moved on to Ireland sometime in the early 1980s, where they listened to the Pogues and took acid for 22 years.’
This would go some way towards explaining the finished product of their output. First song ‘How Come That Blood On Your Coat Sleeve?’ genuinely sounds like a cross between Kirsty McColl and Shane MacGowan’s hit pop song and something from Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads, as sung by Kirsty Gallagher off Sky TV and ‘top’ impressionario Alistair MacGowan. I honestly can’t tell if this utterly bizarre countrified duet about murder and bloodstains is taking the piss or not. It’s Nick Cave if he’d been brought up by Cletus and Dwayne, the only inbred gay couple in all of Arkansas. And I mean that as a compliment, really I do.
Traditional songs recorded on an Apple Powerbook by an insane genius with straw between his teeth – Muleskinner Jones, we salute you, because we don’t know what else to do.”
“Aye. there’s nowt stranger than folk.
And to get much stranger than Muleskinner Jones, you’re gonna have to get seriously fucked up!
Muleskinner is actually James Closs, but at times you could have sworn that it’s Nick Cave and Julie Andrews that have gatecrashed the recording of the new Pogues album. Which would be a very strange thing indeed – if it were not true! Just have a listen to “How Come That Blood on your Coatsleeve” if you think we’re bullshitting.
But move on swiftly, and who should ride in out of the sunset but Johnny Cash for a dark tale called ‘Pretty Polly’. it would seem Johnny has picked up a lonely forlorn Beck for the ride however, and shoved him onto the percussion section for this track.
Before we go any further, we better let it be known that all the songs on Muleskinner’s ‘Terrible Stories’ ep (how cool a name is Muleskinner!) are all renditions of traditional folk songs. Not that you would know though, as Muleskinner makes them completely his own.
But, back to the mayhem with Art Garfunkel singing his dying wishes, holding his accidentally slashed throat to stop the blood, as he recounts the stabbing and drowning of Rose Connelly.
Finally, we realise that the star of the show is Nick Cave with ‘Black Sheep Lullaby’. Although it should really be ‘Black Heart Rum Lullaby’, ‘cos by f**k is he pissed. And obviously staggering dowm the road with some equally inebriated tart who likes to scream. And then, of all the f**ked up things, in comes Julie Andrews and hand in hand they all go, roaming in the meadows, with big ol’ Johnny fumbling along behind them, leaving a trail of tobacco spit on the road.
Muleskinner Jones has issued a bold challenge to the open minded with the ‘Terrible Stories’ ep. And by f**k do we love it.
Please, please, please listen to this stuff.”
“T: One review read “Julie Andrews meets Nick Cave”, and it is impossible to deny it! You could maybe say that Fiddler’s Dram of that truly awful ‘Day Trip To Bangor’ fame perhaps popped by for a glass of cider.
R: I’m quite surprised that anyone actually had the balls to put this out!
N: The guy deserves a medal. Sorry James, but this is Quasimodo and Esmeralda in the studio with the bells still ringing. Cool.
T: It’s very strange because this is absolutely dreadful but for some inexplicable reason I love it!
N: I think that goes for all of us.”
“Imagine a band comprising of Nick Cave, Willie Nelson, members of Horslips, Fleetwood Mac, and a few other country and folky types. Now imagine that none of them had any idea what they were doing… Ladies and Gentlemen: I give you Muleskinner Jones!
This is horrible. Absolutely horrible. Urgh. Horrible. 1/5″
“‘These are terrible stories yet each word of them’s true is the bold statement on the inside of the CD. All the songs here are traditional and are arranged by James Closs in his spare room. Aside from a few snippets of nice guitar this is absolutely dire. Closs’ vocal (on Pretty Polly in particular) is the most annoying I’ve ever heard. Without exception. I can only hope this is one big piss-take. Either way, it’s still horrible to listen to.”