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John Smith Hums Along Ever So Smoothly

Check out our review of ‘Hummingbird’ by English folk artist John Smith

By Rob Dickens

When I saw John Smith perform a short in-the-round set in a crowded room at Folk Alliance International last year, I only managed to write three words in my notebook – ‘London’ and ‘John Martyn’.

I remember being duly impressed by his songwriting and breathy vocals and for it to invoke a comparison with the late folk-fusion legend Martyn is probably the highest praise I could extol.

Smith’s brilliant new album Hummingbird (released in March via Commoner Records/Thirty Tigers), is a great English folk collection – modern and compelling narratives in a traditional form, intricate finger-picking and emotive vocals.

Smith, who has released five albums and toured the world for almost fifteen years, again turned to songwriter and producer Sam Lakeman‘s studio in Somerset, England to commit seven of his favourite folk songs (some of them dating back to the 15th Century) to tape alongside three originals.

“With my guitars and notebook, I sat for a week and dug into these songs, some of which I have performed hundreds of times, but never recorded,” Smith recalls. “I always chose instead to concentrate on my own writing. If I didn’t record these songs now, representing the Folk Music that I love, I felt I was going to regret it.”

In the studio, the tracks came together pretty quickly with a “less is more” approach adopted. Add the deft-touch assistance of good friends Cara Dillon, John McCusker and Ben Nicholls, and you have a delightful concoction.

Given the number of traditional songs carefully chosen by the artist, you might think that they could overshadow the three originals. This is not the case at all. The new songs sparkle. Take the gorgeous dirge “Boudica”, the urgent, emotionally-charged “Axe Mountain (Revisited)” and the strength of the title track which sets the pace for the whole collection (see clip below). The other tracks range from the two young lovers’ tragedy of “Willy Moore,” the poignant call to enlist in “Lowlands Of Holland”, the yearning “Hares On The Mountain” and the beautiful closing highlight – the lilting “Unquiet Grave”.

John Smith, who has been playing as a session guitarist and singer for the likes of Joan Baez, Lisa Hannigan and David Gray, became a folk devotee as a teenager after hearing artists like John Renbourn for the first time. (Renbourn has since dubbed Smith “the future of folk music.”)

Hummingbird should elevate his career to another, headier level.

Hummingbird Track List

  1. Hummingbird
  2. Lowlands Of Holland
  3. Boudica
  4. Hares On The Mountain
  5. Lord Franklin
  6. Master Kilby
  7. The Time Has Come
  8. Willy Moore
  9. Axe Mountain (Revisited)
  10. Unquiet Grave

Via Lucky Bird Media

Check out our review of ‘Hummingbird’ by English folk artist John Smith

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Author: Rob Dickens

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2 Comments

    • Thanks for taking the time to listen Joe. Glad you like it!

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