'There are ancient societies that value the dreaming world on an equal level as the waking world. I've always had one foot in the dreaming world.' So speaks John Southworth an English-Canadian singer-songwriter who's been putting out musical product over twelve albums in all on a regular basis since the late Nineties, His latest record Miracle in the Night is just out.
It's a revelation at least to me, as I've been unaware of Southworth's work until ... well just now. His voice is not a particularly outstanding one but it is noteworthy in terms of the warmth and depth of feeling, the sheer atmosphere he gets across.Miracle in the Night is choc a bloc with crafted, slightly mournful songs played on traditional, generally acoustic instruments with moods that chip away at the listener until they're lulled into admiring silence.
Southworth is working again with his long term band the South Seas, the musicians he feels most understanding to his vision. It certainly works here to an almost magical degree. Miracle in the Night is very much a waking dream.
Each song adds new ingredients to the spell being cast. The songs are slowly, jazzily paced, and Southworth's gentle, intoned vocals are at the heart of the mix. It's altogether wonderfully done, a set of musicians who know implicitly exactly what they're at and after. At times, things get quite heady, as on Red Velvet Curtains, which occurs midway through the record, one of several standout tracks .
But really this an album that never puts a foot out of place. I get the impression that Southworth has taken notes from the likes of Dylan, Cohen, Robert Wyatt and Robbie Robertson but his voice is still very much his own. This is a fine, fine album that has already encouraged me to investigate his back catalogue in depth because here is a man with a quiet but beautiful skill who should be recognised as an artist to a much greater degree than he is.
There's a tangible sadness to much of what's on show here. Life, after all, is ingrained with sadness, even in its happiest moments. But also a hard earned, palpable awareness of its moments of tender beauty. Because most of all this album is beautiful. In the words of one of the song titles here, Southworth is halfway up the mountain. There's much behind him but much still ahead and he knows that he needs to keep pushing onwards.
The album reaches its summit with Just Before Dawn and you might be tempted to reel back and listen to the whole record through again start to finish. One of the softest spoken but most persuasive records I've heard of this type for many a year. Not dissimilar in tone to Adrian Crowley's wonderful Some Blue Morning which was my Album of the Year way back in 2014, near to the beginning of this blog. Both records appreciate the value of silence and the hushed whisper. Sometimes less is more.