Although primarily a producer and engineer, one whose diverse clients have included Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Laura Marling and Ryan Adams, British-born Ethan Johns can also be frequently found on the other side of the desk too, playing with the likes of John Hiatt, Emmylou Harris and Fish, both in the studio and on the road. From time to time, he also does his own stuff, too.
Having released his debut album in 2012, following up with the conceptual, Adams-produced The Reckoning, Silver Liner is now his third, recorded live with a core band consisting of bassist Nick Pino, drummer (and producer) Jeremy Stacey and pedal steel legend BJ Cole and put down over the space of just ten days. All self-penned material, it embraces both homegrown folk and Americana, the influences often clearly out in the open, case in point being the title track which (featuring Gillian Welch on backing) even Neil Young might be persuaded it was one of his own forgotten tracks from the After The Goldrush-era archives, right down to whiny vocal and trademark fiery guitar solo.
Young’s also firmly in evidence on the strummed, loping, desert-parched eight-and-a-half minute Six And Nine with its memorable “I set ’em up just to knock ’em down” refrain, while the spoken passages on the equally lengthy, noir-tinged, slow-tempo jazzy Open Your Window have a touch of the Lou Reed about them and, backed by a string section, piano ballad It Won’t Always Be This Way strains The Eagles’ Desperado through a Randy Newman filter.
By contrast, although the cascading chords are almost identical to those on My Darling Clementine’s Going Back To Memphis, the chugging, accordion-accompanied I Don’t Mind mostly recalls Slim Chance and, from the same era, the doleful, waltzing The Sun Hardly Rises harks to the British folk-rock of early Richard Thompson. However, largely down to Cole’s pedal steel and Johns on mandolin, it also has the same vein of roots country that runs throughout the album, at its thickest on the keening Juanita that features both Welch and Bernie Leadon and suggests John Wesley Harding vintage Dylan holed up in some cantina on the Tex-Mex border.
Returning to folk notes, the album plays out on the intricate fingerpicked acoustic guitar of the night sky atmospherics of Dark Fire and the slightly bluesier I’m Coming Home, neither of which would be out of place in a Bruce Cockburn collection.
So, yes, it will remind you of other artists, but Johns’ seasoned, engaging voice and his way with melodies ensure that it isn’t in their shadows.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now on Three Crows Records via Caroline International