Released 21st Sept.
Emerging from the quintessentially English plains of Devon, John Smith’s dazzlingly accomplished folk vignettes have been met with waves of applause wherever he’s stopped off on his seemingly never-ending jaunt around the UK.
These two sides come on the back of support slots with John Martyn and John Renbourn, where his mesmerising narratives have seen him grappling with Blunt, Morrison, Nutini et al to wrest the songwriter crown from the grasp of his plodding contemporaries.
Regularly dealing with the shadier subjects of life’s rich pageant, songs about death and doomed relationships are currency for a man who has been honing his extensive repertoire through relentless touring.
The Bird and the Worm floats along on a gently building melody, coaxing great warmth out of delicately picked guitar textures, topped off with brushed drums and shuffling percussion. The faintly jazz-indebted folk tales could easily be the work of Martyn, or even Nick Drake. Where Drake’s feather-light whisper led the way, John Smith’s tones are equally informed by Tom Waits – all gravel-chewing intensity but softened by his earnest delivery.
The flip is a gilt-edged walk through ‘No One Knows’, which – aided only by a battered acoustic guitar – manages to capture a far greater sense of menace than Queens of the Stone Age ever could, wrapping dark vocals around his gleaming guitar style.
A tour with Davey Graham is still to come, but Smith’s folky credentials are firmly in place, with slots at the Green Man for a second consecutive year, a set at the Moseley Folk Festival and the new Thermal festival set in Matlock Bath (curated by Tunng and already sold out). These two tracks put his incredible voice and distinct guitar playing into very different contexts. A truly special talent, he weaves beautifully macabre songs that are completely bewitching and oddly seductive – he’s an undoubted treasure and there are few songwriters who can match him for such extraordinary moments.