John Alexander is a Scottish songwriter and guitarist. He releases his new album, Face The Wind, on September 15th. At the Edinburgh Festival, he has recently concluded a number of well-regarded shows called Dustbowl Blues with a Glasgow Kick.
The shows’ title is spot on. You know how, at times, you first listen to a CD without knowing anything about the musician(s)? I listened to Face The Wind without reading about Alexander’s background. I thought these were nicely classy tracks, well put together, a mood that touches on darkness (“the chill of the dark/hides the look of despair” is a lyric that first hit me) – Americana with a mood touched by Steinbeck or Nebraska, but also some catchy melodies and lyrics delivered in a vocal shaded with gravel.
After a couple of listens, I flicked to the album cover, looked at titles like ‘Bullets In The Rain’, ‘Don’t Start A War’ ‘Blood In The Water’ ‘Last Man Standing’ etc and I wondered which part of America he was from.
I found out … ah … Glasgow … Scotland.
And I’ve come across his work before – playing guitar with Doghouse Roses, whose Iona MacDonald is on this album (as is Neil Warden on lap steel guitar). That Americana mood I’ve just celebrated? Alexander himself, on an album produced, recorded and mixed by Boo Hewerdine and Chris Pepper in Cambridgeshire, England.
You have the context, lets look at some of the tracks in a bit more detail. There’s the ominous tale of ‘Blood in the Water’ (the blood is ankle deep and filling up the well) perfectly matched to a low, dangerous lead guitar; and there’s ‘Living to Stay Alive’ more immediately catchy but still with darker lyrics:
“I need some air beneath these wings
I fought the day and the light it brings
I lost my faith, I’m losing time
My finest hour is no longer mine”
I began to realise that, even more so than usually, this is an album that repays more and more listening.
As well as the Americana influences, Alexander name checks Muddy Waters and there’s an obvious blues influence on, for example, ‘Fault And Blame’. There’s still more though – there’s a jauntiness to ‘This Side Of The Glass’, the last track on an album nicely sequenced so you leave Face The Wind on the catchiest of tunes and with Alexander’s positive, and no doubt hard-earned, perception “I don’t mind if you don’t sing along/This side of the glass is where I’m drinking from”.
I’ll leave you with the suggestion that you dig out ‘Don’t Start A War’. Like much of the album, it doesn’t punch you in the head on first listening – but it’s got a refrain that sticks and an arrangement that keeps a tension between the vocal, the heavy beat and a (low-ish mixed) howling guitar, all in support of a lyric that might be personal “Peace in the valley/Sleep with me tonight”? might be a fight “There’s blood in the street/I’m lying broke and bruised”? might be psychological “The devil’s in the shadows/shades of what’s to come”? might be literal given the current News? I’d guess it’s all of them mixed together, creatively merging into a song which has a mood, an arrangement and playing that leaves you both uneasy – and waiting to play it again. Clever.
According to his social media page, Alexander has been playing Dustbowl Blues events for over ten years. Like some of the Steinbeck work I referenced above, Face The Wind didn’t stick in my head on first listen, but it doesn’t half repay close attention.
Artist’s website: http://johnalexander.info
There are no videos from Face The Wind so here’s a live oldie – ‘A Little Daylight In’: