Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pitstop: Ethan Johns

There is of course a certain curiosity and almost instantaneous acceptance that comes when one of your favorite artists/bands praises the skills of another. That's how I discovered British singer/songwriter Ethan Johns. Serving as Laura Marling's go-to producer for her past three albums and the only band member she kept around after excising a backing band from her composition process completely, his reputation certainly preceded him. A cursory Google search revealed that until very very recently, Johns wasn't even pursuing a solo career of his own, instead just contributing with some rather A-level artists like Ray LaMontagne and Ryan Adams (to name but a few).

However with his latest contribution as a producer/musician/etc out in the world in the form of Laura Marling's Once I Was An Eagle and an album on the very cusp of release over here in the states, it's certainly time for Ethan Johns to claim a bit of that spotlight. As you listen to the slinky guitar melodies of "Hello, Sunshine", it's suddenly clear why Laura Marling tapped him for aid in the creation of her simplest record. Johns has an affinity to clear-cutting melodies without a whole lot of harmonic nonsense. There's a bare bones quality to his songs that ensures the words are the most important thing heard. Which is sometimes a rather easy thing to forget and lose when you layer musical idea after musical idea. That's not to say Johns' songs are without harmonic interplay, it's just subtler taking its proper backseat to melody which Johns makes sure to keep simple but distinct.

In "Whip-Poor-Will", Johns assures you that he can handle the spinning plate method of song compostion with melodies, counter melodies, harmonies, and all manner of song technique employed. There's backing vocals by Laura Marling & Ryan Adams but not enough to draw attention to their guest roles and not enough to outshine Johns by any means; just enough to add an different color to Johns' compositional palette.

Ethan Johns' music is interesting in that the rugged simplicity is exactly what you're drawn to. It's nuanced; intention - of that there is no doubt and that's quite enough to pique interest in Johns' talents as a songwriter. Luckily with Ethan Johns' If Not Now Then When? slated for a July 30th release, we're not too far from figuring out just what that entails.

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