John Fullbright, The Slaughtered Lamb, London
Tuesday 05 February 2013
"Woody Guthrie always said people were hoping machines, I'd argue we're worrying machines," maintains the 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Okemah, Oklahoma, home of Guthrie.
Grand comparisons have been made with the "This Land Is Your Land" folk star, but cherubic John Fullbright feels more akin to the likes of Ryan Adams, Randy Newman and Townes Van Zandt.
Giddy company, and the personable musician, who looks like he says his prayers before dinner, is indisputably a huge talent. Jimmy Webb, no less, has proclaimed that in "a short time Fullbright will be a household name in American music".
Well, he's already played at Chuck Berry's tribute gig last year, has bagged a Grammy nomination in the Americana category and his 12-song debut, From the Ground Up, has been roundly praised Stateside.
Is he worthy of such lavish praise? Well, Fullbright, with his black pork-pie hat, is supremely confident at this London gig debut in this hushed basement venue, the sort of place where you can hear a rat nibbling on a lemon sponge.
His rasping, earthy vocals are sublime on his three standout tracks: the catchy country lament "Moving" ("Maybe we’ll meet in a place where there ain’t no pain/ Until that day my song remains"), the faintly political "Fat Man" ("As he laughs so carelessly/ In his laughter I hear the sorrow/ From the pain that it brings") and the spiritual "Jericho" ("I go searching through this world/ I wait on something to unfurl/ Thinking back on toys and paper dolls/ Now all I ever find are walls").
Religion pops up quite a bit in this Southerner's material, from "Satan and St Paul" to "I Only Pray at Night". Most memorably it looms over "Gawd Above" ("I made the stars above/ Is it too much to ask for a little love?"), about which the youngster claims that he "tried to write this song from God's point of view, which was a lofty point indeed".
It's not entirely successful; a crafty lyricist such as Randy Newman or Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck are sharper at this kind of satirical song. Nuanced, droll lyrics don't appear to be his strong point.
The Oklahoman is clearly an accomplished singer, piano and harmonica player, but his lyrical sensibility feels a tad undercooked and the majority of his tracks don't possess that crucial stick-ability factor. Ultimately, this country artist feels like one for the future.
Fullbright needs perhaps to experience a bit more heartache and pain. He doesn't seem wizened before his time, which is probably a good thing.
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