After dissolving Swell Maps, singer/guitarist/rock scribe Nikki Sudden released two solo albums, Waiting on Egypt and The Bible Belt, which basically offered more of what that band had been doing. But then he formed the Jacobites — a core trio of Sudden, guitarist/singer Dave Kusworth and ex-Swell Maps drummer Epic Soundtracks (Sudden’s brother), plus assorted friends — and began to sing an altogether different tune. With Kusworth co-writing the songs, Sudden promptly rid himself of all references to his previous career.
The Jacobites’ records all have a similar woozily romantic format: seductive strummed acoustic guitar, a thumping, muffled rhythm section and Sudden’s whining, Dylanesque vocals. (Imagine a folky Johnny Thunders growing up in the English countryside and learning to play guitar by listening to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” with a bottle by his side.) The group pillages idols like the Stones, Neil Young and Dylan with such loving devotion — as on “Fortune of Fame,” “Where Rivers End” (both on Robespierre’s Velvet Basement) and others — that their motives transcend any appearance of carbon-copy revivalism.
The duo made two full albums, all recorded during ’84 and ’85. Lost in a Sea of Scarves contains outtakes from Robespierre’s Velvet Basement, which was to have been a double-album. The Ragged School, a consistently strong 12-song American condensation of the UK albums, shares only three tracks with the carefully annotated and sounding-better-with-age 19-song Fortune of Fame (subtitled Big Hits and Stereo Landings) retrospective.
Parting company with Kusworth and switching to Creation (but retaining the band name), Sudden released Texas, relying on his brother and bassist Duncan Sibbald for primary assistance. Ex-Birthday Party guitarist Rowland S. Howard and a violinist make notable appearances, giving Sudden’s languid, atmospheric Southwesternisms the extra color they need to prevent sameness. (Two notable style-busting exceptions are the Velvetsy “Glass Eye” and “Such a Little Girl,” both winning piles of melodic distortion.) The Last Bandit EP pairs two album tracks with two others.
A month after finishing Texas, Sudden returned to the studio and began work on the spare Dead Men Tell No Tales, which has almost no percussion and very little accompaniment of any sort for his guitar, bouzouki and dulcimer strumming. Howard and Sibbald again put in appearances and the cover still credits the Jacobites, but it’s basically a solo album — and an underwhelming one at that. Only “Girl With the Wooden Leg” makes a powerful impression, as Howard’s crazed guitar noises contrast with Sudden’s maudlin balladeering.
Howard takes a more prominent role on Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc, another largely drum-free record that drifts along aimlessly at quarter-speed. Nikki does the singing and Rowland provides most of the instrumentation; the duo split the songwriting.
Crown of Thorns is a live album, recorded throughout Europe between ’86 and ’88 and released only in Italy.
Judging by Groove‘s posturing, halfhearted distorto-blues core, it’s clear that Sudden continues to suffer from delusions of Keith Richardsdom. Unfortunately, his true roots show through on “See My Rider,” an ostensibly rough-hewn blues that’s so fey you just know he’s singing about how many scarves his touring contract requires concert promoters to provide.
The uneven and poorly organized Back to the Coast compilation has a few really good tracks (like the Kiss You Kidnapped Howard collaboration “Crossroads,” Robert Johnson as heard by Nick Cave) in which Sudden makes a concerted artistic effort and manages to roll his pretensions into a convincing ball of transcendent rock’n’roll, but it also contains whatever else he had lying around: further lazy designs clipped from the usual cloth (where have we heard “The Last Bandit” before?), a total toss-off (the acoustic “Flower Bed Romance”) and “In Your Life,” a shitty-sounding slice of ’60s retro-organ punkedelia that sounds like an outtake from someone else’s album.
Kusworth lay low a while after leaving the Jacobites in mid-’86, spending his time recording a solo album (also credited to the Bounty Hunters, a quartet he led) which was released the following year. Marriage is on Dave’s mind on The Bounty Hunters, as several of the songs — which interlock to form a long, vague romantic narrative — make reference to weddings, rings, wives and other such symptoms of betrothal. Showing an affinity for the folky side of Johnny Thunders, Kusworth’s thin voice is no dynamic instrument, but it serves the material, as do the energetic arrangements of acoustic guitar and electric rock rhythms.
Threads furthers Kusworth’s quest for beauty in the underbelly. With the addition of a bevy of pastoral instruments (ranging from pocket trumpet to harpsichord), much of the material is redolent of that particular time in late-’60s/early-’70s Britain when debauchery gave way to rusticity (à la Led Zep II crossed with Blind Faith). Then again, the volume-heavy stuff could pass for Black Crowes outtakes, so go figure.
Sudden died in March 2006, shortly after playing a show in New York City.