Award-winning UK folk roots duo Megson released this single from the forthcoming album, Unknown Waters, a collection of covers of Stu and Debs Hanna’s favorite songwriters from the north east of England. The most famous of these was written by Chris Rea, whose 40-year career has spanned pop, soft rock and blues. His life in the fast lane was assured with the 1989 smash hit, ‘The Road To Hell (Pt. 2),” a song written when stuck on a congested motorway near London.
It was never a song about a traffic jam, rather an expression of disillusionment with the state of the world, commercial pressures and the pollution of the environment, “Well I’m standing by the river/But the water doesn’t flow/It boils with every poison you can think of.” The lesson learned by Chris is summed up by his realization that, ”This ain’t no upwardly mobile freeway…..This is the road to hell.” Rea’s trademark gruff voice and searing slide guitar conveyed his angst to perfection as he wrote his name into music history.
It seems ridiculous in some respects to even consider covering such a distinctive and iconic song and it is definitely not a case of one version being heralded as superior to the other. What is remarkable here is that Megson achieves the impossible by maintaining Rea’s integrity through an empathetic, respectful and creative interpretation of his original composition.
Every facet of this latest version is different apart from the underlying message which remains the same. While the compelling chorus of the original is preserved throughout, the frustration and angst expressed by Chris is communicated subtly and incrementally as the driving rhythms gather pace towards the finale. What makes Megson’s celebration of the song special lies within the combined musical and artistic talents of Stu and Debs Hanna. At one level they are quintessential acoustic English folkies, but they are also politically and socially conscious researchers and interpreters of songs from the past and masters of the contemporary.
Debs sings every note with precision, maintaining the rhythm with subtle cadences, careful phraseology and varied intonation. Her mellifluous vocals complement Stu’s equally intense harmonies, their chemistry tangible as befitting road warriors keeping traditional music alive and creating new songs along the way. Debs’ accordion injects a very different emotion to a blues guitar as she weaves in and out of the vocal phrases and leads the choruses with panache. It takes different sets of strings to make the song their own, however, Stu’s double stringed mandola creating exquisite, distinctive, mellow and almost percussive sounds. However, it is the sumptuous violin which adds the classical vibe of a simpatico ensemble to the proceedings and ensures the song’s unique status.
As a taster for further covers in Unknown Waters, the appetite is whetted. Unknown Waters is to be released on February 12th on EDJ Records and is available as a CD.