Jon Boden – Last Mile Home: Album Review

Jon Boden revisits the themes explored on Songs From The Floodplain and Afterglow as his ‘climate change trilogy’ heads to its conclusion.

Release date: 5th March 2021

Label: Hudson Records

Format: CD / DL / vinyl to follow in the Spring

A decade-long journey comes to a close with the final part of a trilogy that plots a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, climate-changed world. Fortunately, by the time the last mile home is complete, there’s a renewed hope and rebirth.

Back in 2009, Songs From The Floodplain showcased a wonderful set of songs that started to scratch at the surface of what proved to be a deep-lying itch. Dark and instrumentally minimal save the bouncy Beating The Bounds, the grand unveiling of the follow-up, Afterglow, at Cambridge Folk Festival in 2017 seemed to fall a little flat. Even the normally supportive Guardian labelled the album as “a damp squib“. Mind, they preceded their assessment with “compared to Bellowhead…

I think we’re all over that now, despite a ‘one-off’, ‘for one night only’, lockdown-defeating, shot in the arm from everyone’s favourite eleven-piece folk brigands. Suffice to say, the pink jacket and sparkly waistcoat have been stored away for this album. We’re definitely into brown corduroy territory and battered boots on Last Mile Home. We can also safely report that the new songs, recaptures an understated, more reserved and reflective mood.

The acid test is to bang the album onto iTunes and do the digital equivalent of sticking in a pin into the album. Alternatively, if you wait a bit and grab a vinyl copy, drop the needle at random points and you’ll inevitably encounter a gently crafted piece of music or vocal. It seems in stark contrast to 2091’s excellent Rose In June that dipped, dived, ducked, dodged and swaggered – an album that restored the faith. On Last Mile Home you’re more likely to find some finely finger-picked guitar or mellow strings or even the welcome appearance of a piano that sounds like (or is simply recorded so well…) like a battered and worn-in, upright model.

Deliberately set in the context of a late Spring / early Summer there’s a suggestion of warmth and emergence from dark to light. A transformation seen through nature and a sense of not so much foreboding, but after the trials of Floodplain and Afterglow, a sense of clarity. The rebirth is confirmed as he sings of “letting in the garden” as nature – the ivy and the honeysuckle – finds a way through the detritus. The journey comes to its close as our guide heads from moor to coast, contemplating a solitude amidst the recovering landscape.

The organic nature of the themes is reinforced (sort of) in the recording location: a storage unit next to a steel fabrication industry and the use of wax cylinder recording is evident in the first few moments. Into tThe Graden sounds not so much a distant cousin, but much closer relative to Songs From The Floodplain with it’s concertina joining the softly strummed guitar, see- sawing through the piece. Cinnamon Water is Jon’s wild swimming song, where a sway of lush strings accompanies the tumble of guitar notes. Again, closeness to nature as the central theme with his own foray into the water adds a personal perspective. The opening sequence soon establishes a pastoral and freindly mood.

The piano-led Under The Bough is sparse and contemplative in its ‘less is more’ coating and is followed naturally with Lay My Body Down where the thoughts of our protagonist turn to a return to the soil – “let the climbing bindweed make a winding sheet for me and you.” Like much of Floodplain, a sombre thought caught by a friendly tune.

Not until Flash Flood is there any high tempo, jiggery folkery with the fiddle inciting a bout of English chair dancing, and you may even feel refreshed enough to get into Morris mode by the end of Come Out Wherever You Are. I’d like to think, however unlikely it may be, the latter refers to the re-emergence of the Morris dancers, who like the tardigrades and cockroaches, have survived the apocalypse to carry their tradition into a brave new world and greet our traveller home. An interesting thought although more a reference to the spirit of the past…

More seriously, there’s a strong sense of coming home in the weariness – possibly a ‘happy’ weary – of Walking Song and The Path Is Winding (two tracks that resonate personally) and finally the Springsteen-esque closing song that provides the album title. What comes across is an overwhelming sense of calm and a feeling that we’ve come full circle.

The trail from blazing oil drums to peaceful birdsong is a most welcome one. Last Mile Home sees a genuine folk music heavyweight delivering some unmissable music. It’s a showing where sensitivity and lightness carry us home. Jon Boden comes as a man of peace.

Here’s Jon doing We Do What We Can from the Rose In June album, recorded at the Folk On Foot Front Room Festival:

Jon Boden online. Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / other

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