The Georgian Theatre, Stockton. By Phil
I'm unashamedly a child of the 80s, an era much more accepting of the double denim combo.
Sadly, 2014 is not a denim based safe haven.
Thankfully, then, we have Ethan Johns, who strutted onto the stage like a double denim clad Messiah! The fact that he was rocking a particularly epic beard, also helped his Messianic comparisons. Following on from the truly awe inspiring David J Roch was always going to be a steep challenge. Thankfully he didn't disappoint, his first act on stage was to snap a G String (sadly for him, not the underwear variety!)
When most of us hear that a favourite producer has swapped the production duties for a guitar and mic, we suppress an involuntary shudder and mutter to ourselves that they will be back to their old job in no time. Thankfully Ethan proves to be the exception to the rule, as he genuinely has a hell of a lot of talent, and a gift for clever song writing. Most of the playlist for this gig was from his as of then unreleased second album, so for many of us it was virgin listening. The fact that he was now supported (unnanounced) by a full band was a pleasant surprise, the inclusion of the stonkingly awesome B J Coles on steel guitar was a truly inspired choice, B J added a chunk of depth and unique sound that you don't often experience in a gig these days. Mind you I am a huge fan of the steel guitar!! The issue sometimes though with playing new tracks is that it stands a chance of alienating the audience, thankfully this wasn’t the case.
Going backwards for a second. Ethan has a voice reminiscent of Ray LaMontagne, and also Leonard Cohen, sounding both like gravel but also soothing, it truly is unique. Supported by a full band, the sound coming from stage was pure bliss, having a double bass on stage was a master stroke, it is an underused and often forgotten about instrument, so having it on stage made me a very very happy chapster! All I need now is for the sax solo to make a comeback and I can die happy.
You can tell in the songs that his first album was produced by his dad (famed producer Glyn Johns), his early songs have the 1960s feel that his dad is so damned good at. The newer songs show both a growth in sound, but also a bit of shift heading more into the acoustic blues side of things. The newer tracks sound and tone is quite a lot darker than his first album, dealing with darker issues. Stand out song from the newer songs is the Lo Down Ballad of James Younger, quite a dark acoustic track based on the 19th century outlaw gang.
Ethan has a unique stage presence, he creates a genuinely intimate experience for those in attendance. There are no false statements made, this is a man who isn’t going to tell you that we are the best audience he has encountered, he is more likely to talk about his songs, and what they meant to him. It’s a unique and for me a special gig, when you come away not only humming the songs, but understanding the motivation and stories behind them. That perhaps is his strongpoint, he creates a bond between you and his music, encouraging you to weave your own unique story around them.
I could wax lyrical all day about how how good Ethan was, and how his lyrics are heart felt and touching. That however doesn't mean anything, so I will end this by imploring you to check out his albums, and if you get the chance too, go see him live - He is just that damn good