Bob & Veronica's Great Escape by Morton Valence

Release date: February 1, 2019
Label: Bastard Recordings

A new Morton Valence album is always a welcome surprise, like running into an old friend in a pub and spending a happy hour on old stories and new dreams. A friend who comes and goes, has adventures and a singular taste in hats. It must be ten years since we first met this pair on their debut. Bob and Veronica’s Great Escape, their sixth or seventh depending on how you count it, both comes full circle and opens new doors at the same time. A mostly acoustic record foregrounding the vocals of core duo Robert ‘Hacker’ Jessett and Anne Gilpin it is not ‘stripped back’ or ‘raw’ or any other earnest clichés that might imply but warm and lush, filled with swooning songs of regret and renewal. Touches of percussion and instrumentation colour the songs in the most delicate and subtle ways, the production is wonderful, it makes everything float.

What are they looking to escape from these two? Old habits, each other, this wretched country, a world in flames? Opener ‘It’s A New Morning’ sets the tone. Hacker singing of the “blossom lined streets in early May” and being “clean for the best part of a year” the feeling of spring and rebirth blows through it like a breeze. When Anne’s voice comes in after a minute or two it’s as lovely as sunlight warming your face. Bob and Veronica are broken people, fictive alter egos in trouble with the law, at war with their own souls and each other but clinging together against the insanity outside. We’ve all felt like that. They return to it in ‘Maybe We Could Go Downstairs And See’ ignoring the knocking at the door, staying in bed in a cloud of love and/or drugs even as they sense it can’t last. Doomed romanticism is the air Morton Valence breathe, their songs are cinematic in a low key way, the everyday made magic by golden hour light. They inhabit a sad and beautiful world.

A couple of songs from their one-off, American gothic, side project Black Angel Drifter reappear here. The menacing ‘Black Eyed Susan’ loses the chirruping crickets and cracking whip but gains a lovely pedal steel solo from Alan Cook and has the wonderful line “never go to church on Sundays . . . just to hear some sweaty priest”. ‘The Visit’ kind of bookends the record with ‘It’s A New Morning’ as a proper duet, Anne and Hacker trading verses. It finds Bob turning up drunk at Veronica’s and confessing his failures, begging another chance. Whether he gets it is left open for now but the title of ‘The Final Segue’ strikes an ominous note. Rich layers build a gorgeous swell of sound, both expectant and elegiac that carry us to a curious finale. ‘Mr Whippy’ rides in on a handclapping beat and fuzzed bass line before Hacker starts yelling through a bullhorn about ice cream. At odds with what has come before it’s like a sun drenched super 8 coda, a flashback to carefree youth as the curtain comes down.

Morton Valence amended their name from a small Gloucestershire village, but the UK’s stubborn refusal to fall for their considerable charms in anything like appropriate numbers is a constant source of confusion and irritation to those of us who have. This good review will join a pile of others that have somehow failed to raise them to even modest success. Clearly, this is pretty much how things would turn out for the luckless Bob and Veronica, but it shouldn’t be. Great Escape is another wonderful album of hope and heartache. You’re missing out, people.

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