AT LEAST once in recent times, Essex-born, Devon-raised folk troubadour John Smith has received the epithet “the guitarists’ guitarist”. And with a CV like his, you couldn’t argue; as a session musician he’s has played with Joan Baez, David Gray, Joe Henry, Lianne La Havas and Tom Jones.
He’s also in possession of a voice of honeyed depth, with just a little grain to convey that emotion; as evinced by his last single drop, “Friends”, a paean to everyone we’re missing during lockdown, which we took a look at here and of which we said: “[It] comes over like John Martyn circa ‘May You Never’. My favourite moment? That off-the-cuff little laugh partway through. There’s still light in the world.”
With a new album out on March 26th, John’s dropped a new track, “Hold On”, on which he joined on vocals by The Staves’ Jessica Staveley-Taylor. The two twine together in a sad plea, John’s clean, semi-percussive style on the six strings very much to the fore.
“If we don’t hold on, we’re lost” he says of a track on which he sings: “Rolling with the punches every day.”
2020 dealt John a particularly harsh hand; against a backdrop of the enveloping pandemic he and wife lost a pregnancy, and his mother was diagnosed with cancer. A touring schedule of 200 dates also bit the dust. He was at home; and he wrote.
“With newfound pain coming from so many directions, dealing with the uncertainty it brings, I closed the curtains and picked up the pen, turning to songwriting as a lifeline,” he says.
John co-produced The Fray with friend Sam Lakeman at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio. Other guest artists alongside Jessica from The Staves include Sarah Jarosz, Courtney Hartman, Lisa Hannigan and Bill Frisell – all recording their parts remotely.
John says of The Fray: “It’s been a hell of a year, but I feel I’ve created my most honest work as a result, and as a necessity.
“A lot of these songs are about accepting that life is hard, but just holding on and trying to enjoy it anyway.”
“Hold On” is available now across all digital streaming platforms.
John Smith’s The Fray will be released digitally, on CD and on vinyl by Thirty Tigers on March 26th, and it’s available for pre-order now; there’s an array of merch bundles for you, including T-shirts and additional digital EPs, right up to personal concerts. Click through to John’s website for an explore.