It seems one of life’s little ironies that someone with such a common name should have such an uncommon talent but somehow John Smith has a voice which as soon as you hear it, it feels like a favourite coat which grows more comfortable with each wearing.
This Devon troubadour, who has already garnered many accolades, has rubbed shoulders with some of the best folk artists on the scene and now deserves his place alongside them. His new album Great Lakes which is due out March 25 is a real treat for anyone who likes good music folk or otherwise.
From the opening There Is A Stone Smith uses his liquid acoustic style of playing to accentuate his illustrative lyrics: “There is a stone that sits on the tip of my tongue, when I need to say something to you.”
His guitar playing steps up a gear for the title track and his plaintive voice is so evocative and backed by a wonderfully mellow orchestral sound which adds to the rich colours of the song.
There is a more sinister undertone to his raspy chords for England Rolls Away and it’s echoed in the harder throbbing sound of his picking. Just over half the tracks are all Smith’s own work on others he has collaborated with Sam Genders – who is at the experimental edge of folk music, Dennis Ellsworth who is making big ripples on the Canadian music scene and Joe Henry who has produced albums for Lisa Hannigan (who provides vocals on the album), Hugh Laurie, Loudon WainwrightIII to name but a few of his many impressive projects.
Genders is credited on one of Smith’s more emotional tracks Town to Town which shows the depth of feeling Smith can produce with his voice as well as weaving in the sound of his slide guitar and occasionally dipping a musical toe into the country side of the lake.
Without doubt, one of the best tracks on this fourth album is She Is My Escape, it has the feel of Simon & Garfunkel but the ballad has such an intensity of feeling which just stops you in your tracks. There is something akin to a mixture of Donovan and Labi Siffre in Perfect Storm and it has the great refrain “What is love if not the perfect storm?” although it’s more upbeat in terms of tempo it still carries a melancholy edge.
It can honestly be said there is not a bad track on this album, which was partly recorded in Bethesda in Wales and London, and it’s one of those that when you hear any song from it you will want to hear the rest of the album.
Review by: Danny Farragher