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Review: 'SMITH, JOHN'

-  Label: 'Commoner / Thirty Tigers'
-  Genre: 'Folk' -  Release Date: '5th October 2018'

Our Rating:
In introducing his 5th album to the world, John Smith speaks nostalgically of a series of teenage epiphanies that came after hearing Nick Drake, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn for the first time.

The ten songs are a homage to British folk music by this gifted Devon-born, Liverpool-based artist boosted by contributions from Cara Dillon, John McCusker and Ben Nicholls.

Recorded with an emphasis on less is more at Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio, it features six of his favourite folk standards, one cover (Anne Briggs' melancholy The Time Has Come) and three original songs.

The title tune is one of the originals, with poignant memories of a former love very much in the style of Richard Thompson's 'Beeswing'.

Smith's other two songs are Boudica, dedicated to the English folk heroine and his own take on the murder ballad tradition, Axe Mountain (Revisited) written under the Black Mountains in Wales with the moral being "don’t mess with a Devon woman".

Otherwise he delves into the folk song archives cherry picking from the index of songs in the oral tradition meticulously compiled by Steve Roud, namely Roud 329:Hares On The Mountain, Roud 484:Lowlands Of Holland,Roud 487:Lord Franklin and Roud 1434:Master Kilby

A transatlantic leap takes him to Willy Moore, a love song of unknown origin first collected in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.

The collection ends with the oldest song on the album, Unquiet Grave, Child Ballad 78, which is thought to originate in the 15th century. This is yet another tale of doomed love and the story is presented as a duet with Cara Dillon.

One way or another, death and despair loom large throughout this collection although these darker dimensions are easy to overlook in these tasteful renderings.

With his husky, melodic voice and expert six string finger picking, Smith's respect for the source material shines through but, perhaps inevitably, something of the rawness and weirdness of the originals is lost in the process.   

John Smith's website
  author: Martin Raybould

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