British born and based guitarist, singer, and songwriter John Smith hits so many right notes for me. His guitar work is novel and fresh, yet rooted in the fingerstyle tradition of British folk, while his singing is warm and welcoming. His website tells a bit about his background.
Steeped in the lineage of British folk, taking his cue from Richard Thompson and John Martyn, Smith has evolved a transatlantic blend of fingerstyle and slide guitar techniques. John’s intimate takes on love, loss and the journey we make, combined with his innovative guitar work, have won him a loyal following. His honey-on-gravel voice and mesmerizing fingerstyle guitar are undeniable. Sometimes using a slide, sometimes with guitar on his lap, sometimes detuning mid-song, Smith’s obsession with the instrument has made a master of him. Whether by way of album or concert, he leads the listener, enthralled in his presence, on a viscerally emotional journey.
Let’s begin with an optimistic look ahead. From the 2017 album Headlong comes the tune Far Too Good, heard in the live version from the eTown show. The sentiment that “you’re far too good for keeping down” is one I like to hear these days.
“Tell me your dream
Somewhere you wanna go or someone to be
What of those desires?
What hunger to sate, how high the fire?
Are you gonna make yourself unhappy?
Are you gonna let it run you around?
Have a little faith, we can pull it together
You’re far too good for keeping down“
Salty and sweet from the 2013 album Great Lakes calls upon Smith’s childhood growing up in a seaside village. Here are two versions – a solo one followed by a duet with Irish singer Lisa Hannigan. Both are worth a listen.
Also from the Headlong album, this backstage video of Save My Life gives you the chance to hear Smith in a band setting.
Smith plays electric guitar, but you won’t be surprised to know that I gravitate toward his acoustic work. From the Fretboard Journal You Tube site, Smith performs Hummingbird. This is the title track off his excellent 2018 album.
There is beautiful fingerstyle guitar backing his vocals throughout, but at about the 2:30 mark you can hear a bit without the overlay of the vocals. I believe Smith is playing in a DADGAD tuning — sometimes known as the “grown man’s (or woman’s) tuning” — and it is simply lovely. (Click on the link and learn more about the tuning and how Smith came to live in that space.)
“For this track, John is playing his long-scale Fylde Alexander, an instrument with rosewood back and sides, a highly-figured Sitka spruce top and Yew binding. Though not plugged-in for this session, it’s equipped with a vintage DeArmond soundhole pickup that came to Smith via musician/producer Joe Henry.“
We’ll end with his most recent single, Friends, another tune of optimism for our times.
More to come…