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John Smith’s ‘The Fray’ Reviewed

John Smith new release reviewed

John Smith – Photo: LTTL

John Smith

‘The Fray’

Out March 26, 2021

By Rob Dickens

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, fray is an “usually disorderly or protracted fight, struggle, or dispute”

The Fray finds English folk singer and songwriter John Smith with his sixth album, grounded from his usually-busy touring schedule, and reeling from a cascade of even worse news in his personal life; wading through it all with a defiant positivity. “It’s been a hell of a year, but I feel I’ve created my most honest work as a result—and as a necessity,” says Smith. “A lot of these songs are about accepting that life is hard, but just holding on and trying to enjoy it anyway.”

I first stumbled onto (and almost into!) English folk singer/songwriter John Smith at the Folk Alliance International conference 2018 in Kansas City Missouri. The scene was a crowded hotel room private showcase where I was squeezed embarrassingly close to the artists (although more intrusive for them than I no doubt).

I was in the room principally to see Rose Cousins and initially was a little disappointed to discover that she was performing In The Round with Smith and two others (John Blek and Wallis Bird), meaning less songs from her. As it turned out, it was a revelatory session for me on a few fronts, not the least tuning in to Smith’s career from that point.

His next release was the absorbing “Hummingbird” (read our review). The following encounter was my colleague Jim Jacob and I witnessing his excellent set at the Port Fairy Folk Festival 2020 in front of a packed tent, a far cry from the Kansas City Westin Hotel room.

Now we can savour another milestone – Smith’s new album cements his place with the great English folk troubadours with his intricate guitar picking, achingly soulful voice and intense lyrics.

The first song released was the sublime “Eye to Eye”, co-written with the wonderful Sarah Siskind and features Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Sarah Jarosz.

Here’s another track – a live version of “Friends”:

Smith co-produced The Fray with long-time friend and producer Sam Lakeman at Peter Gabriel’s legendary Real World Studio. He called on an all-star band—pianist Jason Rebello (Sting, John Mayer), bass player Ben Nicholls (Seth Lakeman, Nadine Shah), drummer Jay Sikora (Paolo Nutini) and Jessica Staveley-Taylor (The Staves).

Not allowing a global pandemic to prohibit collaboration, Smith’s guests on the album recorded remotely and sent their contributions digitally over international borders—Jarosz, Courtney Hartman, The Milk Carton Kids, and Bill Frisell from the Americas and Smith’s frequent touring partner Lisa Hannigan via a virtual studio session in Dublin.

The Fray is a compelling collection.

About John Smith

Smith was born in Essex and raised on the Devon seaside. Known for his intimate songwriting, his honey-on-gravel voice, and pioneering guitar playing, he has spent the last fifteen years touring internationally and has amassed over 40 million streams on Spotify. As a session musician, he has played guitar with artists as diverse as Joan Baez, David Gray, Joe Henry, Lianne La Havas, and Tom Jones

The Fray Tracklisting

1. Friends

2. Hold On

3. Sanctuary

4. Deserving

5. The Best Of Me (feat. Bill Frisell)

6. Star-Crossed Lovers (feat Lisa Hannigan)

7. To The Shore

8. Eye To Eye (feat Sarah Jarosz)

9. Just As You Are

10. The Fray (feat. The Milk Carton Kids)

11. She’s Doing Fine

12. One Day At A Time

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John Smith new release

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Author: Rob Dickens

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