Intimate and quirky folk-noir.
Old Lost John has released a number of albums in the last couple of years, all of them receiving positive reviews on AUK. This presents a challenge for this particular reviewer. The albums are very similar, and so it becomes difficult to find something unique to write about them.
As other reviewers have noted, the albums are quite simple and unadorned, mostly featuring some (quite accomplished) fingerpicking on acoustic guitar, sprinkled with mandolin flourishes or other instrumentation here and there. Over the top of this, Old Lost John sings close up to the microphone in his deep and weather-worn voice (other reviewers said ‘weary and lived-in’ – you get the picture). The microphones have picked up the sound of the domestic spaces where the recordings have been made, adding both to the sense of intimacy and the ‘organic’ feel.
With such direct, unembellished music there are few places for a singer and songwriter to hide. The lyrics become an important (or more important) focus. There are dark bluesy themes – “gotta clear up the chaos, look for some better news“, but also touches of offbeat humour “I like my coffee black, and my swans as white as snow.” An idiosyncratic view of the world comes through from this self-described former woodsman turned paperboy and songwriter. ‘Snake Skin Oil‘ stood out though for some possibly questionable words (“my heart got sold down the river, black skin woman she made me shiver, I should have known she was some kind of voodoo queen“.)
And then there is the question raised by other reviewers on the ‘authenticity’ of the music – defending Old Lost John from those who would question whether a songwriter from outside the US can really make authentic Americana. Clearly Old Lost John can make music that very much sounds like it could have been written and recorded in Louisiana (the setting for the song ‘Cooling Fan’) or wherever. There might be a different question whether an artist should even strive for this authenticity – or, at least, to consider when this crosses the line from respectful appreciation or tribute into something like pastiche. Peppering your songs with bluesy tropes, distant place names and references to voodoo queens is perhaps odd, but music can still be satisfying and real if the writer has something unique to say (as well).