What an introduction this is to Bristolian singer/songwriter Joe T Johnson. OK, so introduction isn’t strictly true, three of the four songs have already been released as singles over the course of the last 12 months and have been readily available for streaming. But for the first time, all three of the previous singles, plus new song “Far From The Sun” can be found in one place on CD. So, for all intents and purposes, this is an introduction.
As far as subtlety goes, that’s a pretty unsubtle start of a review, which is in total contradiction to this collection of songs. First track “10 Pounds”, also Johnson’s debut single, kicks off the EP and it’s here we get the first taste of the songwriter’s penchant for a line about old blighty as he candidly sings “so welcome to England, where the towns are rough, terraced house in the back of town”. The song has the feel of The La’s and those unadulterated, melodious early Stone Roses b-sides.
“Friends”, much like the opening track it has a classic English feel “give each other space, share some lemonade, together in the sun, together in the shade”, which makes you want to do exactly that with your best pal, with perhaps an upgrade to a shandy! Like the whole of this EP, although there is a touch of innocence about it, it also comes with an abundance of assuredness.
“English Elegance” feels like a three-minute trip back to the sixties. Part Kinks, part Small Face, part Syd era Pink Floyd it has a psychedelic, whimsical feel and once again see’s the singer making observations of this confused, divided nation. “English elegance mixed with the scum life” he sings; half regret, half acceptance. Fourth, final and newest track “Far From The Sun” is the least instant of the tracks on this EP, but stick with it, let it sink into your consciousness and the payoff is totally worthwhile.
Since I first became aware of Johnson’s music a few months back, these four tunes have barely left my speakers. Although this is just the beginnings of Joe T Johnson as a solo musician, the promise and potential is huge. Big things surely beckons.
Throughout the EP, various influences can be heard, but at no point does it sound cheap, tacky, pastiche or anything other than Joe T Johnson, which is the highest possible compliment I can pay. Each song has its own charm, with every corner there is something to get you sucked it, be it a turn of phrase or a gloriously catchy melody.
There’s been no shortage of lyricists who have elegantly conveyed the complicated juxtaposition of the beautiful but often bleak landscape of England. Pete Doherty sang of his beloved Albion “gin in tea cups, leaves on the lawn and violence at bus stops” and decades before him Ray Davies spoke of “preserving the old ways from being abused and protecting the new was for me and for you” in “Village Green Preservation Society”.
Joe T Johnson seems to have not only the turn of phrase to match his predecessors, but the songs to go with it. This EP has given an insight into the talents of Joe T Johnson and although released independently, it has been distributed by Rough Trade so he’s clearly already turning heads. What’s next for Joe T Johnson I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out!
Gavin Facey – 19/04/2021