Nikki Sudden has worked with a wide range of musicians, from full-on collaborations with the likes of Rowland S. Howard to regular cohorts Anthony Thistlewaite and Epic Soundtracks, to just-in-the-studio-for-one-song visits by the likes of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Kevin Tihista (on 2000’s Red Brocade, which also featured plentiful assistance by the Chamber Strings' Kevin Junior). He was even backed by members of REM on 1991's 'The Jewel Thief' (re-released as 'Liquour, Guns and Ammo' in 2000 by Chatterbox). But his most longstanding working partner has been Dave Kusworth. Sudden met Kusworth in 1980 while the latter was playing in the Subterranean Hawks. There was an obvious affinity; Kusworth had been quick to suggest they work together; he played guitar and sang on Sudden’s 'The Bible Belt'.

As Sudden recounts in the liner notes to 'Jacobites', the pair’s first album as partners, he wanted someone to put down some lead guitar on a track he’d recorded, 'Big Store (Orig.)', and tapped Kusworth for the job. Since the Hawks had broken up, it was only natural the two would team up on a more permanent basis.

Thus, in 1984 Sudden’s next solo album became a co-project with Kusworth, released as the 'Jacobites' LP. 'The Shame for the Angels' EP followed later in the year. Ther are fifteen songs in all, with a fairly even spread of songwriting credits, now compiled on one CD by Secretly Canadian.

Sudden and Kusworth’s first album as full partners was obviously influenced by Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Marc Bolan, the Rolling Stones and the Faces musically; lyrically it’s obsessed with romance, failed and otherwise.

Apart from a mutual affection for scarves, black velvet jackets, big rings and leather pants, Kusworth and Sudden also have voices that go very well together. Neither man has a set of pipes that will set the world on fire, but Kusworth's reedy voice blends very well with Sudden's relatively lower pitch very effectively throughout their albums together, thanks in part to similar delivery.

The album is one of Sudden’s more acoustic efforts, with a particularly medieval feel thanks to some sharp picking on tracks. Tyla of Dogs D’Amour provides excellent slide guitar on several tracks.

'The Shame for the Angels EP'is a bit noisier, opening with some feedback (courtesy of Sudden’s brother and Swell Maps bandmate Epic Soundtracks. Kuswoth's other band, the Rag Dolls, provide 'Fortune of Fame', and the singer to go with it-Simon (Slim) Cartwright.

'Jacobites' was an excellent debut for the twosome, but Kusworth and Sudden’s next album was a high watermark for their mutual career. 'Robespierre’s Velvet Bedroom' was the offspring of a creative outburst; the band went into the studio with 64 songs, ready to record what was to have been a double album.

Instead, 'Robespierre's Velvet Bedroom' was originally released as a single, 14-track album in 1985. Other tracks later appeared on the 'Pin Your Heart'EP, a single,  and a German-only album, 'Lost In A Sea Of Scarves'. In the 90s it was finally released as intended, as a 24 track album.

Secretly Canadian’s release adds three bonus tracks. The album opens with 'Big Store' — though it shares a title with Sudden’s earlier composition, this track is actually by Stephen Duffy of Duran Duran and Lilac Time. Duffy apparently wrote 'Big Store' for the Subterranean Hawks, the band he left Duran Duran for. Sudden’s 'Big Store (Orig.)' was Nikki’s attempt to figure the chords out. The results, with different lyrics, were a new song; Sudden’s is about a lost romantic opportunity, while Duffy’s is a sardonic look at a would-be party animal and hipster.

This energetic intro to the album also features a fine harmonic open by Andrew Wickett, who performs a similar service on other songs, notably a a slightly rewritten 'Fortune of Fame' and 'When The Rain Comes Down',(which is also boosted by a great one-note piano riff). This is one of the groovier tracks on what is a very groovy album. It’s noteworthy that 'When The Rain Comes Down' was left off the original 14-track album — the additional 10 tracks on the enlarged version certainly weren’t left off for reasons of quality!

The rhythm section — Epic Soundtracks, and Mark Lemon from the Rag Dolls — lift the whole album up through their excellent musicianship. Fabulous sweetening is provided by Max (Lizard) Edie, who adds background vocals to considerable added effect on several tracks and Tyla’s slide guitar.

Of the bonus tracks, 'Ooh La La' would seem to be the ending of 'Hearts Are Like Flowers', another of the orignal tracks on the album. It makes a fine capper to the album, but it’s a bit cheeky to call it a bonus track. 'All Of My Life' is a Kusworth composition; the backing sounds like a chord organ. Its sonorous drone meshes very well with acoustic guitar and Kusworth’s voice, and is another track where one can only wonder why it didn’t make the original or enlarged album. 'Romance', one of Sudden’s song wouldn’t disgrace it either. A great album from start to finish.

Following this stupendous effort, Kusworth and Sudden parted ways until the 90's — but their career in the 80's wasn’t exactly over. Members of the Replacements got hold of the Jacobites albums, and recommended the band to their label, Twin/Tone, which then released a compilation of their work, 'The Ragged School'.

The original album clipped three tracks from 'Robespierre's Velvet Bedroom', four from 'Jacobites', two from the 'Shame For The Angels EP', one from 'The Bible Belt', the title track of the 'Pin Your Heart To Me EP', and one track exclusive to The Ragged School. The rerelease adds eleven tracks, and substitutes one of the tracks from 'Robespierre's Velvet Bedroom', 'Ambulance Station', with another version of the same song from the 'Pin Your Heart' EP.

As for the bonus tracks: 'Ambulance Station II' is the first bonus track. It’s much like the version on 'Robespierre's Velvet Bedroom', but without the waltz beat. Far more necessary is 'Teenage Christmas'. Unlike far too many Christmas songs, this one isn’t the musical equivalent of a finger down the throat.The Jacobites wisely reprised this song in a rocked up version for their 'God Save Us Poor Sinners' LP (Bomp, 1998). The acoustic version on 'Ragged School', culled from a giveaway single that was released in 1996, is also fine. The best Christmas song ever not produced by Phil Spector. Like 'Fortune Of Fame' it’s a holdover from the Rag Dolls.

From the 'Pin Your Heart' EP comes another Kusworth composition of lost love, 'You’ll Never Miss Me.' Two acoustic guitars and heartbreak,plus a wheezing chord organ.

Sudden’s 'I Believe In You' is a great song that, as Kusworth suggests in the liners, would have been much better with his and Mark Lemon’s help. It does beg for fuller production and backing vocals. 'Tattered Scarves' and 'Tell Me' are in somewhat similar straits, but the songs seems more comfortable in its sparser arrangement.

Kusworth also complains about one of his own tunes, 'Down On My Own', originally on 'Hawks Get Religion' (Regency Sound), a later Jacobites compilation, but it sounds quite good — due in part to some repair work by producer John Rivers. Less than vital are 'Too Many Girls' and 'Silver Coin'. Terrible sound (the former was recorded on a four track by Kusworth in his apartment with some sort of cheesy Casio chiming in the background, the latter is a live recording) spoil two otherwise commendable songs.

Then there’s the tracks even completists won’t care about: 'The Old Church Steps' is the backing track for 'Romance' with a BBC sound effects album plying bird and church bell noises over top, first played backwards, then forwards. A bit of Swell Maps-ish japery, not unlike 'Chateau Carpets', another bonus track which is actually 'Kings And Queens' and 'Hurt Me More' played backwards put together to fill out 'Lost In A Sea Of Scarves'.

In its day, 'The Ragged School' was a great introduction, and the bonus tracks don’t hurt a bit.

Like the entire Secretly Canadian reissue series, the sound on all three albums is excellent and the packaging generous; 20-page booklets for the single discs,24 for the double-CD 'Robespierre's Velvet Bedroom'. The 'Ragged School' compilation offers the informative song-by-song breakdown  from Kusworth and Sudden familiar from the other reissues; the two original albums forgo that for a bit of history from Sudden and lyric transcriptions. All three have plentiful photos. 

The Jacobites would record again in the 90s, when Sudden and Kusworth teamed up with guitarist Glenn Tranter (who also worked with Kusworth in the Bounty Hunters), bassist Carl Eugene Picot and Mark Williams for excellent albums like 'Old Scarlett' and 'Howling Good Times', and dropped a stunner with 'God Save Us Poor Sinners', but they made their reputation in the years 1984-86.

'Jacobites' is a great debut, but head to the Jacobites’ sophomore album first: 'Robespierre’s Velvet Bedroom' is a classic.

As for 'The Ragged School', it may be the least vital release in the Secretly Canadian series. With other Jacobites albums readily available, it can’t be recommended as an introduction, a task far better left to 'Robespierre’s Velvet Bedroom', so it’s really best left to completists, and people in North America feeling sentimental about their first exposure to the band.

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