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John Smith + Brooke Bentham

Venue: Pheonix
Town: Exeter
Date: 03/04/17

Opening the evening was young singer songwriter Brooke Bentham. A great voice, singing songs of love and relationships with at times unusual lyrics, accompanied by understated jangly electric guitar. The stand out song was Oliver, sung with a sort of yearning defiance that channelled the spirit of Martha Wainwright.

John Smith has been absent for far too long. I loved his 2013 album, Great Lakes, and that year I saw him perform an all too brief support slot for Ben Howard. And then he seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. He has been busy touring extensively in America and songwriting for other artists. But now he's back with a new album (well nearly, the release date has been put back to mid May) and what a welcome return!

The tone of the evening was set as he wandered unassumingly onto the stage and began to sing the first song. And there it was, that lovely gentle voice, the sense of calmness and space in the music, instantly brought a smile to my face as I settled in to enjoy the show. One man and his guitars playing beautiful finger-style arrangements with well crafted and heartfelt lyrics about relationships, love and life.

Brooke Bentham

His set was a mix of new songs from the forthcoming album and older material. The new songs are clearly influenced by his time in America, both lyrically and musically, there is a more obvious Americana-y feel to them, an almost country style storytelling quality, a touch of bluegrass in the guitar. The new songs are more pacey and upbeat, a foot organ used with a deft and light touch added an interesting subtle texture and provided much fodder for joking and wit throughout the evening.

The older songs were also sung with more grit, the charming whistling S that peppers his earlier recording was absent. One of Great Lakes' standout songs, Like a Stone, a song that so eloquently expresses the struggle to communicate, was delivered, curiously, with great pace and attack. His between song chat revealed a self deprecating and entertaining dry wit, sometimes giving the background to a song's inspiration, other times wandering off into introspective chats about events and experiences from his past and his thoughts and observations on life. Throughout, there was a sense of melancholy, an emotional darkness pervading the lyrical content of the songs, beautifully offset with fingerstyle guitaring, uplifting melodies and that gentle, warm comforting voice.

The new album, Headlong, is currently only available for pre-order so we headed out to inspect the consolation merch, T-shirts printed with the scribbled portrait artwork of the new album, and a live EP recorded at the Union Chapel. The upside of the delayed release of the new album is that there will be an autumn tour with his full band, and I very much look forward to that.

Words: Kitty Chandrilla - Pics: Jo Elkington

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