John Cunningham | 1998 - 2002

Ashmont Records (2010)
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  July 20, 2010
3.5 3.5 Stars

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This reissue compiles two out-of-print albums from British songwriter John Cunningham — 1998's Homeless House and 2002's Happy-Go-Unlucky.

Although he failed to establish an audience the first time around with these records, Cunningham has built a cult following in recent years in the sort of musical circles that revere both the formal beauty of the Beatles and the twilight melancholy of Canterbury-scene/British-folk greats Robert Wyatt and Nick Drake. Compared with most musicians nowadays who are caught up in the album-tour-rinse cycle, Cunningham's ethos is refreshingly civilian. A music teacher who lives in very rural Northern Britain, he's as reflective in his nature as he is particular about every detail of his songs.

Homeless House is the starker of the two albums here, an enigmatic collection of piano-and-guitar-based songs that flow and ripple like a darkly personal short story. Happy-Go-Unlucky, by contrast, is a tour-de-force of production. Here Cunningham really lets loose in the studio, with majestic orchestrations, surprising changes, and cunning melodies. Philosophical but never ponderous, reflecting both sides of an unusual and rare coin, these albums are extraordinary cases of what can still be done in the folk/pop medium.

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