The creators of Knocker Jungle seem to harbor a buried hostility of undetermined origin.
With a name like Knocker Jungle, you might be forgiven for thinking this is a collection of raunchy exotica. But the group may be the best folk-rock duo you’ve never heard. Vinilisssimo’s vinyl reissue brings back into print a rarity originally released in 1970 on the Ember label. The album won’t make you forget your Nick Drake and Donovan records, but it deserves to be better known.
Singer-songwriter-guitarists Tony Coop and Keith Jones were the heart of Knocker Jungle, with bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Dave Mattacks from Fairport Convention filling in the band. The opening track immediately dispels any lascivious notions the title may suggest. After an acoustic rhythm guitar intro and piercing acoustic lead, the duo’s vocals come in with the sweetly sentimental lyric, “I don’t know why I love you/ But I do.” Composed by Jones, “I Don’t Know Why” is an instant earworm, the choir-boy chorus a contrast to gruffer verses, which gets at the divide between Knocker Jungle’s heavy name and its gentle music, though Mattacks’ drumming gets intense on Coop’s “Oh to Be Free,” a percussive counterpoint to the song’s gorgeous rippling guitar.
The pair splits songwriting duties, with Jones writing more lighthearted songs like the acoustic folk-gospel of “Ecclesiastes,” about a preacher spreading the Word; the big open chords and harmonies sell the optimistic message. Coop seems more earthly, perhaps answering Jones’ gospel directly with the very next track, “Reality”: “I’ve come to terms with this world for quite some time.” The pair collaborates on the searching, matter-of-fact “You’ve Lost Your Love for Me.” Despite the seemingly bleak subject, it’s still a musical delight, with flute and even a bit of scat singing evoking a much brighter mood than the lyrics might indicate. Still, these are words of hope: “A happy life with no more tears/ That’s the life I’m looking for.”
The album’s one misstep is a cover of the Gershwin standard “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Coop and Jones share an affinity for the blues-based faction of their influences—some of their originals sound like token acoustic tracks on a lesser Led Zeppelin album. But despite an acoustic blues arrangement that suits the material and guitar work as impressive as any on the album, their choice of cover doesn’t play up to the duo’s melodic strengths.
“Oh My” closes the album with a vocal that suggests the music-hall Ray Davies of Village Green. It’s a departure from the rest of the album, but a more promising meld of its charm with the blues.
Coop and Jones parted ways before their album was even released; perhaps it didn’t even matter to them that the album was soon withdrawn from circulation, thanks to an offensive hand gesture pictured inside the gatefold. Like the duo’s name, the V-shaped threat is an unlikely contrast to what is fairly inviting and accessible music. The creators of Knocker Jungle seem to harbor a buried hostility of undetermined origin, but don’t hold that against this perfectly lovely folk-rock album.