THE FIRST LOSS (Tragick Records)
~review by Mick Mercer
And the first song is about – a funeral! The protagonist sings from within his coffin and seems quite happy with his lot. Friends think well of him, everyone is respectful and with the most traditional folk delivery, vocally, on this album, with some pretty piano, this is quite rousing, then segues mood-wise into ‘Evelyn’ with more voices coasting behind Johnny in lamenting his lost love. There’s gentle bass colouring, and nice character to his voice here because he’s caught in the whirl. Later, when alone, his deficiencies do leave him in some trouble.
The problem with quite a few of the songs here is that they have a plain arrangement, which may be inherent in the genre, possibly, but there’s no reason for some of them to show as little variety as they do, even the choruses being the same. It tends to grate on you as you listen.
The piano in ‘Still Like Strangers’ is better, slower, warmer, but here Johnny is left exposed He can neither sustain rising notes, or extend any, but he does adapt cleverly by changing the word shape, even though it tends to tailor the mood downwards. It creates a gloomy sense to his narratives, not that that isn’t often the right ambience, but it does prevent him issuing any genuinely passionate declamations during slower songs.
Folk is not the most musically fertile area, so it needs all the help it can get. ‘Saying Goodbye’ has an enchanting opening, but then glides and trails off (they could easily have varied the choruses here), and ‘Going Home’ is so plain it almost puts you off the weird little war vignette. ‘Hey Mr DJ’ also suffers. It’s a swaggering little bastard, sure enough, and being noisy allows Johnny to seem more confident as he needn’t be so precise, but musically it lacks vivacity.
‘The Devil Lying Inside’ is another odd tale, which is what any dark folk material should be, along with harrowing emotional schisms, and this jangles and sways with feisty bravado. ‘Linger’ is a dawdling piano daub and mottled vocal dirge, but then comes the most obvious example where a re-think is called for.
‘In A Moment’ covers a death following a riding accident and is very attractive, despite him coaxing the words into fitting the melody. While relating to us, or rather singing to the dead loved one, there is no change in inflection when reaching the actual death, or declaring love. ‘Here Comes My Love’ is then a nicely miserable ending for what is an odd collection.
Johnny’s clear vocal limitations are no handicap to him whatsoever, because he can demand more of the musical arrangements, which can then bring the best out of him. By highlighting him so brightly they leave him staring at headlights, throat gone dry. He needs to compete with dark echoes and a sense of dread created in a studio, or pounding along atop some boisterous blare.
He does have something about him which conveys a sense of soul and there is much on this record to admire, and to take interest in, but there is also serious lack of thought about what sounds best help the songs come to life.
ONLY MY NAME REMAINS