Sunday, 24 February 2013

ETHAN JOHNS

Live Review

Glee Club, Birmingham

Not sure if the catchphrase poacher turned gamekeeper is fully appropriate but music producer Ethan Johns has come up with his first solo album and the hirsute musician who has been involved with some of the biggest names in the music industry was in Brum to promote it recently.

He kicked off his session with Hello Sunshine which is also the opening track from his album If Not Now Then When? which had more than a touch of the Dylan/Guthrie about it mixed in with his mellow voice.
Johns has a self-effacing style and almost seems anachronistic in his stage act using the old school protest songs reminiscent of the 60s.
He sounded even more like Dylan with the gentle lyrics for his ballad Corina Corina. The obviously eccentric performer shared the stage with a collection of hi and lo-tech gadgetry one of which was a Heath Robinson-style upright piano which had a gramophone horn and a computer screen and the purpose of which was never fully realised.
He brought his drummer on his iphone and with the touch of a keypad and a change to electric guitar he moved into a serious blues song Don't Say My Name which had a real gritty, Seasick Steve sound to it and if you didn't know it before you knew from this one tune how accomplished Johns is when it comes to guitar.
He then moved to his "contraption" which, slightly disappointingly, sounded just like an ordinary piano keyboard, for another soft ballad Eden which had a feel of Pink Floyd about it.
Johns then pulled out a new song Among The Sugar Pines where he slipped into Dylanesque mode again. In between the tracks he regaled the sold out club with stories of his life and experiences but unfortunately being a raconteur is not his strong point and this needs some serious work. His deadpan stage demeanour doesn't really go with what are essentially boring anecdotes.
There also seemed to be a divide with an air of sycophancy from part of the crowd and silence from the others as his more ardent fans got the "in jokes" and references while the rest, including myself, sat wondering what was so funny.
Fortunately he spent more time doing what he does best and that was making music and after a lengthy explanation about how Laura Marling was involved with the next track he moved into Whip Poor Will which is a fantastic song. For those who don't know Whip Poor Will is an American bird which is the subject of many legends and myths.
He moved from this softer song to Rally which was simply an old fashioned protest song and a somewhat half-hearted clarion call about the UK becoming more and more like the US.
Towards the end the real Ethan Johns seem to come out on another acoustic ballad Lightning Cracks, there was just his pure voice which seemed to carry no influences and was pretty impressive.
This was followed by another electric blues number Blackheart which had more than a touch of Ry Cooder about it, it was a simple ballad which slipped in deeper, heavier blues on the refrain.
As the night came to a close, he pulled out what sounded like an archetypal protest song with screaming harmonica for The Sun Hardly Rises.