Northern Irish singer/songwriter John Andrews has followed up his 2014 debut with a new EP release “Johnny Was”. The five-song release is a continued introduction to Andrews’ singular sonic stylings. Those stylings are best described as an amalgam of Country, Rock, Roots and Hip Hop that make for a compelling listen.
On Johnny Was Andrews worked with Rory Donaghy at Blast Furnace Studios to produce an engaging trip through a narrative peopled with colourful characters and the lessons that they learn along life’s journey. Andrews enlists musician/arranger Declan Corr for a cameo on the song Wolves. At numerous times on the tracks Andrews channels his varied influences that include; Tom Waits, Frank Sinatra, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean and Ray Charles. He does not imitate them but using them as guide rails as he develops his own individual sound. I found myself time and again admiring the gritty honesty of Andrews’ songwriting which reminded me of another developing talent Scottish songstress Kathryn Joseph, as each seems to expand their sonics and exceptional songwriting abilities every time they release new material.
Johnny Was launches Pray with a revival tent evangelist preaching hellfire and damnation. This barnburner contains slashings of American Bible Belt Southern Gospel, Rockabilly sonics and a dollop of Johnny Cash like wry insights. The lyrics examine the difficulty of squaring the circle on what religious leaders say with what actually takes place in our lives. This is a difficulty Andrews has a lot of personal experience with as he comes from a heavily pious family background; a religious background where his mother continues to play the organ at one of Ian Paisley’s churches. The track encompasses the irony of Saturday in the pub and Sunday on your knees. Andrews leaves unanswered the timeless quandary of where God is when there is so much evil in the world.
Andrews moves from that first frantic track to a song more in his wheelhouse with Don’t Let Me Fade Away. There is a beautiful almost sunlit quality to the acoustic guitar instrumentation that belies the forlorn qualities of the lyric which pleads to not be forgotten as time passes. Andrews’s wordsmithery on the track paints with words a compelling narrative. On Wolves Andrews presents a tapestry of New Wave with rock accompaniment and folk underpinnings. I liken it to New Order meets Dylan, with Johnny Marr on shimmering guitars as a good description. It is a great track showing Andrew’s versatility. Once again on Love Letter Andrews unique ear and lyrics win over the listener. The song combines a bouncy energy with an ode to yearning and love. It is heartfelt as it describes the need for someone to complete the individual and the adversity that relationships face in separation. Andrews finishes strongly with Love Sick Blues which is aptly loaded with satisfying Blues sonics and drama. The track displays Andrews’s stellar vocal abilities as he bemoans the disease that is lovesickness and the lengths it drives us, identifying the pain and pleasure love delivers. The winning track winds up an impressive release leaving the listener desiring more.
Johnny Was is an engaging EP that shows John Andrews continuing to develop his talents. His unique approach and musical styling mesh with his spot on insights marking him for continued success. He is one to watch and hopefully with luck will continue to grow his career and expand beyond his current fan base in Belfast, Northern Ireland and into the musical world beyond. For musical adventurers seeking sonic gold here is a likely candidate.