Guitarist and songwriter John Smith has had a busy year on the back of his sparsely beautiful third studio album Great Lakes (released earlier this year).
Smith recently headlined a sold-out show in the UK at London’s Union Chapel and has previously played alongside Iron & Wine, Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker and Eliza Carthy on the acclaimed Bright Phoebus Revisited tour.
Smith recorded the previously unheard track below to promote that last tour. Unfortunately we didn’t get to the tour dates in time to let you know about them but we were so impressed by John’s take on the traditional folk song ‘Master Kilby’ that we felt me had to share it with you.
John Smith’s musical destiny was cast in his early life, informed in no small part by the records his father chose to play during family gatherings at their West Country fishing village home. Amongst other albums, it was the inclusion of Ry Cooder’s late 70s masterpiece Bop Till You Drop which had a mesmeric effect on his young son’s imagination. ‘That really hit me hard’ says John. ‘Just hearing that really intricate guitar and soulful singing. I just remember not knowing what this thing was, or what it meant, but I knew I wanted more’. It was not long after this that his father entrusted the young Smith with his own guitar, equipping also him with the skills to navigate his way through Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. ‘I was only 11’ Smith smiles, ‘I remember saying to him ‘How have they made another world with music?’ Then he played me Tom Wait’s Invitation To The Blues and the Bert Jansch & John Renbourn album and I was gone. I basically stayed in my room practicing for 8 hours a day until I left home. You can see colours when records are that good.’
Quite aside from the fact that it is an album of astonishing beauty, the arrival of Great Lakes is something of a miraculous happening in itself, given that it followed a 2 year period of writer’s block so crippling that Smith had considered abandoning song-writing altogether. But when the cloud lifted, the results were plentiful- at the back end of 2011 Smith began working with 2 songwriters, Dennis Ellsworth and the legendary American producer Joe Henry (Lisa Hannigan, Loudon Wainwright, Solomon Burke), and by spring 2012, had over 15 fully formed new songs.
It was only when Smith listening back to the early takes that he recorded in a Chapel in North Wales that he could chart the creative scope of the new materiel, which then filled him with renewed enthusiasm. ‘I looked at my last two records and realised there wasn’t that much there for people to dig into. I think it had been too dense, too inaccessible.’ The new tracks were more organic – the beguiling ‘Salty and Sweet’ literally came to Smith in a dream, with Lisa Hannigan singing the refrain’s harmony- who also shares the vocal credits for this track on Great Lakes. Smith admits to a fascination with notions of water as a metaphor for love, which is a sentiment borne out across tracks on Great Lakes– see the propulsive ebb & flow of spine-tingling ‘England Rolls Away’ and John’s rather pertinent questioning ‘What is love if not the perfect storm?’ on the track that bears the same title.