Spirit, Soul and a Handful of Mud by James J Turner

james j turner album cover

Spirit, Soul and a Handful of Mud | James J Turner | Touch the Moon Records

James J Turner has been around for some while now, tracing his musical roots back to mid 80s indie band The Electric Morning and even further, but it is in his more recent musical incarnation, as a druidic influenced singer-songwriter, that you feel he’s really giving rein to his considerable talent.

Spirit, Soul and a Handful of Mud is a cracking record that in turn crackles with optimism and exuberance — which is a neat trick to pull off considering that it starts off with a friend of his dying.

Part of the way he manages to do this though is by infusing the whole record with his beliefs (he’s a member of OBOD and gigs fairly regularly at their events), leading you across some rather more nuanced spiritual landscapes than you would normally expect. The other way he manages it is via the old classic Route One of the singer-songwriter: by writing some astonishingly good tunes.

The title track, Spirit, Soul and a Handful of Mud, gallops out of the speakers sounding very adjacent to Lonesome Jubilee-era John Cougar Mellancamp (and that’s high praise), a glorious concoction of acoustic guitar, fiddle, and Turner’s ever-powerful voice, all coupled on to a suitably foot-stomping and barn-shaking rhythm section.

“If your heart is on the mountain and your soul is in the sea/And your head is in the clouds, you could come with me,’ he sings on the following Come With Me, but by then you’re pretty firmly hooked on for the ride anyway and it’s all a bit of a moot point.

From there the album swings through the many subjects that tend to bedevil the modern pagan troubadour, from activism (“They’d like to put a barcode on your soul”), to freedom from oppression, to spiritual awakening, karma and social justice, ageing, and much, much more.

It does all this lightly too. Turner has a gift for a good lyric — meaningful without ever sounding pious — and when coupled with the exemplary musicianship on show throughout the album, the result is a collection of songs about, well, fairly important stuff, but that sit at the rockier end of the folk spectrum and will slip insidious hooks into your brain and have you humming snatches of them most of the summer long.

‘Like flowers pressed between a page

A moment of beauty in the constant rage

I can’t let go but I know I should

Spirit and soul and a handful of mud’

Quite.

You can read more about James and his music here.