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Far Rockaway. The Songs Of Phil Ochs – Phil Odgers & John Kettle.

Apr 27, 2024

It’s such a natural fit you have to ask yourself why hasn’t it happened sooner. The meeting of minds that is the team work of members from Merry Hell and The Men They Couldn’t Hang, no longer a dream, here on ‘Far Rockaway’ it’s real. And my friend it’s just a bit tasty.

Actually another in that long line of lockdown productions – “we did it all remotely, sending the parts back and forth across the web,” says Mr. Kettle when quizzed on working methods – only now have the players found enough slack in their work schedules to release and promote the album. Launched with a great gig at The Green Note in Camden Town, what’s obvious from listening – remember there is a difference between listening and hearing – is the respect that’s gone into this tribute. Phil Ochs for those who aren’t up to speed was a Greenwich Village Dylan contemporary whose songs were direct and spoke the truth plainly, no fancy lyrical flummery on his albums, sadly he died early in 1976 by his own hand after a spell of mental health issues.

Neither Odgers or Kettle had any intention of  straight copying of the Ochs catalogue and have made subtle alterations here and there to enhance the interpretations but never do anything to blunt the message or sentiment of the songs. The concerns that Ochs sang and about are just as topical sixty years on, if anything finding answers is needed more acutely now than then. All our yesterdays could be our todays. Though not all the selections here are political, there are some which are observational, personal or reflective and it’s those which work best to my ears.

‘The Men Behind The Guns,’ is sharp and direct, Odgers sings of how soldiers are merely humans and how they too may find death a cause for concern, John K meanwhile adds deftly picked counterppoints of delight. ‘There But For Fortune,’ could well be the best track, a thoughtful, thankful hymn to everyday freedoms and chance, though ‘Flower Lady’ an aching piece of contrast concerning the lot of a street trader and those who pass by runs a close second. The lyric and delivery really does make you question the cosiness of the haves compared to the lack of it in the lives of the have nots.

Chiefly produced by Mr. Kettle with a few tracks under supervision of Phil Jones – also double bass contributor – instruments are acoustic and stringed, though a stray melodica does enter the mix on occasion. All told this is a splendid effort that reflects kindly on Mr. Ochs, ‘Far Rockaway’ is celebration, introduction and yet despite its American inspiration has an air of Englishness about it. Hard not to given that both parties produce music that is deeply rooted in Albion character and experience.

There’s a great touch in the sleeve art work which has both our heroes and guitars imposed over a downtown New York skyline, nicley done lads!  If you ask me Phil Ochs would have approved.  Expect more promotional dates later this year. Top stuff.

Simon Jones.

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