Janus - the two-faced Roman God who looks to the past and the future and who represents truth and deception. A sense of self-reflection at work maybe? How much that relates to Steve Tilston & Jez Lowe, two names very familiar to folk infused households, is debatable, but in his role as God of doorways and beginnings, it might allude more understandably to The Janus Game being the first recorded collaboration between the duo.
What’s for sure is that the notion of looking backwards and looking forwards clearly represents a folk ideology - taking the folk traditions of the past, keeping them alive and moving them forwards.
Assisted by Mark Boyce, David Crickmore, Hugh Bradley along with a dash of fiddle from Kate Bramley, the core of Tilston & Lowe provide the backbone instrumentally, the gentle energy of their guitar / mandolin / dulcimer / bouzouki colourings runs throughout the collection of songs.
Naturally, their distinctive tones sit atop, complimenting one another either solo or together, all kicking off with a stereophonic style panning of the two voices at the opening of the title track.
The theme anticipated by the album title arises again with Shiney Row, a song about two old people who look back on their lives spent in a small town in North East England, a theme also farmed for Wagga Moon - inspired by the glow of the sky over Hartlepool steelworks, and another new beginning in the easy waltz of Leaving For Spain, a young woman escaping a North East cotton town to follow her dream (“factor 15 and a silk sarong”).
The occasions when the Lowe / Tilston partnership venture into the intimacy of playing as a duo sees the contrast of Tattered And Torn (explained simply as “no more the Bonny Bunch Of Roses”) while Mrs Einstein is a more lighthearted look at the woman behind a great man.
Bringing things full circle, the album ends on a piece which brought the two together. Goodbye Jonny D’s / Hey Frankie also brings the full ensemble together in a song which rounds things off with a friendly feelgood vibe.
The fact that Jez Lowe & Steve Tilston both have distinctive pasts as solo artists proved a bridge which had to be crossed, nervously at first. Yet, to coin a phrase or two, once the ice had been broken an opening of the floodgates suddenly led to an album’s worth of material, plus the question of why haven’t they done this before? If The Janus Game does indeed prove to be a beginning there should be plenty to look forward to in the future on the Tilston / Lowe journey.Mike Ainscoe
Released on 24 November 2016 by Tantobie Records.
1. The Janus Game
2. Lucky Sami
3. The Wagga Moon
4. Leaving For Spain
5. Crosses, Crescents And Stars
6. The Strings That Wizz Once Strummed
7. Shiney Row
8. Tattered And Torn
9. Mrs Einstein
10. On Beacon Hill
11. Goodbye Jonny D’s / Hey Frankie