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Subversive Folk SF001

Huddersfield-based Johnny spends most of his time on the road collecting and writing songs, and during his performing career thus far he’s shared bills with Daoiri Farrell, Lankum and Stick In The Wheel. Avalon, his second album, was deliberately field-recorded in remote fields and abandoned barns in Moray, Scotland in order to convey an authentic “early folk” sound to his performances.

Although the album showcases a few of his own songs, Johnny kicks off proceedings with a hell-for-leather, Ramones-like charge through the traditional Banks Of The Roses. If you survive that onslaught, then you’ll be able to cope with the remainder of the CD. If your taste is for the traditional fare, then his “fast, ruthless, uncompromising” takes on To The Begging I Will Go, Arthur McBride and Dalesman’s Litany will either invigorate your senses or else leave you slightly numb. His original songwriting clearly pays its debts to the approved models of Woody Guthrie (Wanderlust, Showtime, Last Year) and Hank Williams (Tear Stained Letter – no, not the Thompson number!), also embracing political commentary (the Brexit-themed Leavers’ Avenue, to which is appended a frantic rendition of a traditional slide), with curious diversions like the traditional Finnish tune, Ievan Polkka, and a delicate original planxty with birdsong obbligato. Aside from some female backing vocals and other musicians playing occasional violin, viola and ebow, it’s bare-bones guitar-and-vox all the way here from Johnny. Some listeners may find his singing slightly abrasive, but I’ve rather warmed to it, not least because Johnny’s got the personality to complement the courage of his convictions.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 123 of The Living Tradition magazine.