17 April, 2013 in Music Reviews
After two years in which he suffered from writer’s block, John Smith returns sounding like he never went away
riter’s block. Though most associated with those who choose the pen as their artistic weapon, it’s what everyone who takes creative composition as their vocation fears the most. It’s that dreaded time when every creative impulse turns to an ash that grips the air in front of them, before disappearing into the distance.
John Smith’s third studio release *Great Lakes comes, we’re told, after a two-year period in which Smith was so afflicted by writer’s block that he considered giving up the craft of songwriting altogether. But listening to the record, such a scenario seems incomprehensible. There’s a seamless quality to Smith’s quality, as though the melodies are ever present within his being and that he places his fingers upon his guitar strings simply to release them.
There’s also a real sense of classicism within his songwriting, with touches of the acoustic moments of Paul Weller to be found in Town To Town and echoes of pre-Pink Moon Nick Drake, not yet in the throes of despair, present in songs such as There Is A Stone and England Rolls Away. It’s not just in his folk songwriting that Smith bears resemblance to Drake, either: his voice has the same calm and stoic quality that defined Drake’s singing style. Where Smith breaks from Drake, though, is in which facet of his being has been broken. Smith writes from the stance of one afflicted by a broken heart, such as on Lungs, while Drake’s music is filtered through his broken soul. One has been scorned by love, the other by life.
In addition to making apparent Smith’s classically-steeped songwriting, Great Lakes also lays bare his fiercely accomplished guitar playing, his intricate fingerpicking style drawing favourable comparison to Bert Jansch.
In our recent interview John Smith said that Tom Waits had inspired him to treat songwriting as a rigorous exercise of profession. One can but hope that this will be a fitting weapon against the curse of writer’s block, because the quality of Great Lakes is such that you hope John Smith will never stop writing.
Verdict: Classical folk songwriting that’s a fitting riposte to writer’s block