John Smith

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  • Dennis Ellsworth
  • Ian Dunn
Ceremony Concerts @ The Kazimier 7/12/13

You’d be forgiven for mistaking JOHN SMITH’s latest gig at The Kazimier for a woodcutting convention, such is the quantity of bushy beards and liberally buttoned shirts. The next most likely alternative, and as it turns out the truth of the matter, is that folk artists have descended upon Liverpool to bring their tortured variants of pastoral finger-picking out of the fields. Not to be confused with the brewer, John Smith has been making waves outside of his home county of Devon and his regular festival circuit with his new album Great Lakes, released earlier this year. He certainly looks the part: his beard arrives a good ten minutes before he does and his furrowed brow and stony eyes seem products of working bleak Devon fields.

Before even John’s beard though, singer-songwriter IAN DUNN takes to the stage, surprising everyone with his casual, ‘I just work here’ attitude. Ian’s act is a mixed bag: as a guitarist, he’s incredibly accomplished, blending a percussive style with a more traditional finger-picked method. His melodies are solid, but sadly his voice and lyrics leave something to be desired and just don’t fit with the style or quality of his guitar-work.

DENNIS ELLSWORTH tricks me at first by looking very similar to John Smith (both hide behind facial hair), but the Canadian drawl soon gives him away. The singer-songwriter declares he is used to “sleepy sets” and we believe him; his folk blues skirts close to typical but contains enough self-awareness to come out the other side – alongside The Deep Dark Woods and Seasick Steve – as special. With the help of The Kazimier’s candle lighting, Ellsworth conjures a miasma of intimacy that leaves everyone glazed and smiling stupidly. “I just wrote this one this morning,” he offers. “I can’t really remember it but I promised my friend John I’d try.” The audience are that taken with this grinning Canadian that no one seems to care when he gives up halfway through the second attempt.

John Smith seems less easy-going, rocking the sensitive-silent style, as he opens without introduction. The first thing that strikes me is how god-damned beautiful the man’s voice is. I’ve heard it on recording, but it’s a whole different beast live – the phrase honey-on-gravel comes to mind. His first songs seem to be testing the waters and, as his set progresses, he gains confidence, unleashing more complex songs and more engaging between-song chatter. Smith has been consistently praised for his guitar-work, and it’s easy to see why: immaculate and technical, his guitar sounds like two instruments and his skill leaves behind even high-profile contemporaries such as Iron and Wine’s Samuel Beam.

Salty And Sweet is a highlight, the poster-song of his newest album which he dedicates to Nigella Lawson, and a beautiful cover of Tom Waits’ Train Song. Shoeless double-bassist John Thorne accompanies Smith on several songs, finally departing for Smith’s first encore, a percussive lap guitar song called Winter that leaves silence in its wake. Smith rounds off his second encore by inviting Ellsworth and Thorne back on and launching into a cover of Ned Miller’s Dark Moon, an ethereal end to an already otherworldly gig. Needless to say, I’ll be leaving my guitar alone for a while.

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