In previous reviews of the excellent music from the excellent John Smith here, I have commented on seeing him live twice, both as surprises, and both wonderful ones, the second made more so by the introduction of the first. These memorable encounters have been made so in addition by Smith’s inherent and essentially folk credentials [though I wouldn’t narrow completely to this] but also through the personal link he has had to John Martyn, as a support act to him, and JM as an influential folk artist on Smith’s own work, but also then to me via these links because I have always placed Martyn at the pinnacle of my musical affinities.
The above is hardly symmetry but it is a succession of close connections and it means something special to me.
But thus my pleasure in listening to this latest release from Smith, which is an entirely folk album, and it resonates with both that influence from previous artists including also John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, perhaps obviously but also as evidenced in echoes throughout this album, not least the lovely track Lord Franklin which for those of my generation resounds to the cover many years ago by Pentangle [and thus Bert J and John R]. When Smith lets his voice here rise above its usual register there is such delicacy. Listen out too for that delicate plucked guitar string at its end!
The album’s title track is self-penned, as is the third Boudica – this embracing both the delicate and the powerful, a rousing chorus and beautiful violin lines gracing the sweet melody: the plaintive within the poignancy. The traditional Hares on the Mountain follows this, and we have more truly emotive performing here; violin again lamenting. Gorgeous.
In all of this so far it could seem that Smith is merely occupying a space in that fine folk lineage – not that this would be an insignificant thing – but he has his distinctiveness and this is mostly in the resonant rasp of his vocal, but also the very fine guitar playing. That vocal is also at times full of emotion, as in the singing on penultimate track to this album Axe Mountain [Revisited] – a powerful rendition; Jansch-esque guitar played.
The closer to this album is Unquiet Grave with atmospheric additional instrumentation and vocals, and it is beautiful, Smith’s guitar work simple and simply affecting.