John Thumb – John Thumb
Other Songs Music Co. – 20 October 2017
As introductory releases to new acts go, this eponymous EP from lo-fi folkie John Thumb (real surname Moran) is certainly unorthodox. For example, from just under the halfway mark of the penultimate track, The Bar, the music completely gives way to distant chatter and muffled sounds of human activity – presumably occurring at the bar in question – and throughout the entirety of the preceding track, Left II, children’s voices are heard in the background. There are also fragments of studio conversation and unidentifiable fuzzy noises here and there, but rather than acting as distractions this ambient turbulence simply adds to the warts ‘n’ all intimacy and organic nature of an informal debut offering.
As to the actual music, from the first few seconds of the opening Footsteps I was smiling, being immediately reminded of the early material of both John Martyn and Iron & Wine. The guitar picking, nimble and fluid, is complemented by sweet harmonies and a folk fiddle on this song, one of four of the nine comprising the EP that economically run just over or under two minutes. The following Sandy is a lovely, sunny-sounding country-folk number, before Nightingale and Clementine, occupying just three-and-a-half minutes between them, perfectly illustrate the charming, rough-edged, live-to-cassette approach taken for this project.
Regardless of how the material sounds from a production perspective, it is important to note just how strong and undeniably commercial these songs are. In the aforementioned Footsteps and the sprightly Fuss and Fight in particular, Thumb/Moran has written veritable earworms that are difficult to dislodge. This young man is evidently a talented songsmith, in fact, regarded by Other Songs Music Co. main man Scott Orr as a “classic songwriter…born in the wrong era.” That is a valid statement, as if I had first heard this with no access to information about the artist I would not have been remotely surprised had I learned it was a long-lost home recording from the early to mid-seventies. Thumb’s songs have a timeless feel, and by coincidence his EP release is timely, mirroring as it does the mood of compatriot Neil Young’s recently/finally issued 1976 live-to-tape session, Hitchhiker. If you love that, you will find plenty to appreciate here.
Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, but now based in Thunder Bay, Thumb first made an impression as a teenager, alongside his brother Joe in the excellent folk/country quintet, The Good Hunters. With one Orr produced/released 2011 album, Love You Baby to their name, and – according to their Facebook page – just one random show (last July) performed in recent years, the band appears to be done, or else on indefinite hiatus, while all but Thumb continue their education. It would be good to hear more from an outfit that showed such promise on Love You Baby, but if that is not to be then there should be much to look forward to from Thumb.
However, what approaches to recording might Thumb and (assuming his ongoing involvement) Orr decide upon for future releases? This first offering is defiantly lo-fi, of a sonic quality that both suits him well and is to my liking, but might additional instrumentation, studio polish and sparkle dilute or detract from such honestly presented material? The way I see it is that good songs are good songs, no matter what. Great artists such as Damien Jurado, Bill Callahan and John Darnielle have evolved from super-lo-fi, hissy cassette recordings to lushly produced work in natural progressions, so should John Thumb develop similarly I will follow that path with interest but, on the strength of the fine songs on this quirky release, equally so should he decide to remain as is.
John Thumb is released by Other Songs Music Co. on October 20th.