JANUARY ALBUM OF THE MONTH
Nothing like a bit of intrigue to get a New Year rolling! Richard Jones of Fireroad is back; but not as Richard, nor as Fireroad. It is Fireroad music but at the same time it’s not – it’s The Marshall Chess – and it’s marvellous.
After years of being nagged to put out an acoustic album, Richard Jones has done just that – and for me it’s full circle, as I first discovered Fireroad when they played an acoustic support set for The Quireboys at the Borderline back in 2015. I met Richard at the bar after his set, we had a natter and a week later we were doing out first Great Music Stories interview over the phone. It was the start of a journey as I’ve chronicled the chapter points of the Fireroad story ever since. With 2021 underway, the story is into its seventh calendar year and Marshall Chess is a release that has a story behind the music. It’s a story in itself.
Richard had a tough year in 2020, floored by illness as Covid struck, changing the shape and the rhythm of the world we lived in – and putting up a road block on many of the things we took for granted and now, a year on, we prize, treasure and miss so much.
This album holds a mirror up to the world we live in today and in its raw, stripped-back spontaneity there is the beating heart of music testifying against the darkness. With all the limitations of the various lockdowns, Richard parked the big plans and just worked songs on an acoustic guitar. Within all the contextual limitations he focused on what he could do at home. Organic, authentic – there is a naked truth to the songs captured on this album. A million miles away from the rock-bouffant treatment of a heavily produced and marketed album, here is the honesty and directness of an artist wanting to give songs to his fans. There’s more that a hint of Springsteen here, a guy and his guitar doing what comes naturally. There is depth in the storytelling, there is warmth in the rawness and there is intensity in the simplicity.
With so many artists doing marketing at the moment; diversifying, brand-building, promoting, fundraising and working the socials, Richard is doing the thing that matters most – he’s being a musician. Some old faves are presented in new clothes and there are early takes on tomorrow’s Fireroad favourites. But the treatment these songs get makes them different animals to what we’d expect on the Fireroad catalogue. Marshall Chess is a thing of its own – it’s part enigma, part freedom train.
Most rock albums land after a drawn-out process of hype, multiple single releases and press releases. For Marshall Chess, Richard messaged me and asked if I’d like a copy of his new record. It arrived 48 hours later and I ended up wrapping up Christmas presents in the rock caravan with the album serving as the soundtrack to that moment. Everything about this album runs against the grain. No launch, no hype, no fuss, it just turned up and quietly the songs are demanding attention. On the grapevine people are talking, requests are coming in. The whole thing is quite marvellously odd, but actually there’s a naturalness about every aspect of this album that makes it totally right.
In our darkest days, with the grassroots music scene on a cliff-edge and people working hard just to get through dark days, here is an album that like a lighthouse shines a light through the darkness. The light is the power of authentic home-spun music to give us a lift. This is a David album not a Goliath album but its simplicity and humility roars like a lion.
This album is a product of our times. As fans what we need from musicians today is music. And whatever the challenges to recording in these dark times, The Marshall Chess reminds us that if you have a guitar and a mic you can create and share songs.
There are 10 fine songs on this album – but like I said at the start, this album is a bit of an enigma so if you want to discover more, you’ll have to go and find it! I don’t even know when it’s out – but I have a feeling the music will find its way to the right ears. That in itself is the art behind this whole project. This is music from the heart that will feed the soul and lift spirits. And that’s exactly what we need from music right now.
YouTube: The Marshall Chess
Archive audio interviews
2020: New Horizons interview
2017: Year in review
2016: Feature interview