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Ethan Johns - The Reckoning

"The Reckoning"

Release date: 02 June 2014
Ethan Johns The Reckoning
02 June 2014, 11:30 Written by Sarah Joy
With Ethan Johns’ second album, the big time producer has swapped hats with that of long-term collaborator and acoustic hero Ryan Adams, as he manages the harmonies and Adam’s takes the production helm.

Having been instrumental in shaping hit albums for Laura Marling, Kings of Leon, The Vaccines and The Staves, Johns has traditionally been in the driving seat, but stepped from behind the studio desk last year with critically acclaimed debut album If Not Now Then When?. Now returning with a ten-track follow up, Johns proves his artistic merit extends just as far as his lengthy directional talents that have also included heritage artists such as Tom Jones and Paul McCartney.

Throughout his career we have seen Johns’ take on contributory musician roles on the records of Paolo Nutini, but with every solo attempt there is a rare insight into the cemented and celebrated mind that has shaped some of music’s strongest breakthrough acts. Where his producing roles have been diverse, Johns’ songwriting sits well within the category of morose folk as he utilises strings, acoustic guitars and a yearning that is ever present. Whilst it isn’t the most dynamic music, it is a folk record in its purest and simplest form as stories are recounted over a bed of hymnal harmonies.

As the name suggests, there is a sense of coming full circle with The Reckoning, as emotional retribution for past mistakes is prevalent theme throughout the record. The LP is supposedly conceptual and follows a protagonist Thomas Younger, who in the 1850s follows his older brother to America to explore expansive and uncharted frontiers. Although fictional, parallels can be drawn between the concept and Johns’ newly embarked expedition into his own musicianship. As he explains, “The stories all spring from the song “The Lo Down Ballad of James Younger”. It’s about the choices we make as individuals in life, and the effects that those things can have on us. It’s life on a knife edge. It’s about consequences; it’s about balancing the darkness and light in life that’s present in all of us; and trying to make the right choices at the right time.”

Perhaps he best choice Johns has made with The Reckoning is the apparent connection with Adams and the symbiotic relationship between their wholesome music. Whereas Johns has helped Adams fine tune his honest and direct style, Adams here repays the favour. “The Fool” is the perfect example of this, where deprecating lyrics feel similar to that of Adams, but where he delivers them with a more modern twist, Johns’ feels more traditional.

A good injection of the blues is given in “Talking Talking Blues” where sliding guitars give a different treatment from the rest of the songs. Johns’ stilted voice doesn’t lend itself necessarily to looser instrumentation, but the guitars bring everything together. Ending on a love song to the UK capital, “This Modern London” is a tribute to the rat race feeling the big city evokes. Awash with intricate finger picking and heartfelt sentiment, it is as sincere as can be.

Although not a million miles away from what we’ve heard of Johns before, with Adams’ help this release has captured a moment in time between the two artists that speaks volumes. Oh to have been a fly in the wall in that studio.

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