In 2018 Jason McNiff relocated to Hastings where he quickly established his folk ‘Sundowner’ events, regular sessions hosted by the man featuring a range of guest acts. As Covid struck McNiff went the way of many an artist and took his gigs online. Finding himself drawn into this unexpectedly intimate format McNiff drew on his many musical influences to play an ever-widening range of covers to his online audience. Enthused by the support of this community of music lovers he credits their donations and enthusiasm as the catalyst for what would ultimately lead to ‘Tonight We Ride’, a collection of covers with a couple of McNiff’s own compositions thrown in for good measure.
McNiff openly credits Bert Jansch as a major contributor to the fingerstyle playing that runs as a thread through the heart of his music so it is no surprise that two Jansch compositions are featured here with opening track ‘Running From Home’ and ‘The Open Road.’ The latter in particular allows McNiff to showcase his guitar skills and demonstrate that all the evenings he spent rapt watching Jansch perform in the mid-90s was time well spent.
The artists covered include Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen and Tom Russell. If these could be considered slightly predictable sources of inspiration then covers of ‘Tunnel of Love’ by Dire Straits and The Beatles ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ maybe rather more unexpected. The Beatles track has been given its own very personal spins by artists as far apart as Oasis and Phil Collins and here McNiff goes very much for the pared back minimalistic approach. It is a long way from the psychedelic genius of the original but McNiff affords the song a loving intimacy that renders it almost unrecognisable from its source.
If the cover of a Mark Knopfler track probably isn’t a shock for a guitar loving artist, the choice of track might seem a strange one. McNiff doesn’t stray far from the original here and the guitar outro is a good thing but the track feels like a rare misstep on an album that is mostly a celebration of more intimate songs.
Of the two McNiff compositions ‘I Remember You’ at a little under 7 minutes stands out as a highlight of the man’s skills as a guitarist and a songwriter. The song is a silky, lovely thing, flowing effortlessly throughout and bookended by a couple of great McNiff guitar solos. Anyone taking a first look at what McNiff is all about would do worse than to alight here.
It can be hard to dislodge an original from the brain and let a new version of a loved song be judged independently. As with any cover album the familiarity, or lack of it, with the chosen songs may influence and divide opinion and ‘Tonight We Ride’ will be no exception.