Chris Evans on John Southworth

Broadcaster and journalist Chris Evans, host of The Curveball, extols the virtues of British-born Canadian John Southworth whose new album Human Cry is being released in the UK on Folkwit Records:

John Southworth

“Stepping into a John Southworth song for the first time can be a little like finding yourself in the middle of a movie, with no idea how you got there. It might take you a while to figure out the genre, or whether the director wants to make you laugh, cry or simply take you somewhere you’ve never been before. But you will soon put aside such concerns and find yourself marvelling at the richness, elegance and – often – the meticulously crafted strangeness of the landscape around you. It’s the kind of world you might encounter in a movie by the Coen brothers, David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch, where the texture of reality is deceptively tangible, yet something is not quite right – just a little skewiff.

Over the course of a career spanning some 15 years, Southworth has written songs about a lovesick guy who opens and runs a small airport in the hope that his true love might one day fly in (Small Country Airport), a celebrity who finds that the more he despises his public, the more they revere him (Idle Idol) and Buster Keaton (Buster Keaton). In that time he has also drawn on pretty much every kind of musical influence you care to mention, bending and shaping it to fit his individual vision, and always imbuing it with warmth and a sense of freshly minted melody.

Aside from the fact that he’s always striven to make every album distinct from its predecessor, Southworth’s music contains nothing to unsettle the sensitive listener. No shrieking, no feedback, no discords. Yet only those who allow themselves to be drawn into the mysterious and unique realm it conjures will truly be able to appreciate the sheer rigour and care with which it is constructed. For some, Southworth’s voice – which shares some of Van Dyke Parks’ helium-tinged eccentricity – will act as a deterrent. But once embraced, it seems like the perfect instrument for delineating a world that for all its oddity is still recognisably our own: equal parts absurdity and heartache, and wholly inexplicable.

A degree of familiarity with Southworth’s earlier albums certainly adds to your appreciation of his latest, Human Cry. Here we find an artist less concerned with painting surreal pictures, more with penetrating to the core of the songwriter’s eternal standby, love, and the results are surprisingly moving. Southworth has given no clue as to what sparked this retreat into such raw feeling – whether or not its roots are autobiographical – but the album seems to parallel the rollercoaster of emotions that accompany the agonising pain of a dying relationship and the ecstatic birth of a new one. Songs like Sadness Came Back and River of Tears In Everyone take you to the brink of despair. But then Heaven Was Always Here descries hope amidst the darkness and the ensuing So Glad It’s Finally Spring leads you to the sunniest of sunlit uplands – the female backing singers cooing like birds in a classic Disney cartoon.

This being John Southworth, such a potentially mawkish progression from misery to joy is embellished with gorgeous, winding melodies and dizzying lyrical excursions that take you far from humdrum reality. (I’d be lying if I told you I understood how the mirror-makers of Brigadoon got involved in all of this). Satisfyingly, the album culminates in the sweet and simple serenity of I’m a Bell, in which the protagonist’s hard-won acceptance of life chimes forth – and, as so often with Southworth, rings true.”
– Chris Evans, Broadcaster & Journalist

The Curveball is Broadcast 9-11pm GMT every Tuesday on WCR-FM – more here.

Mixes from previous shows can be found here on Mixcloud.

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