Although John Forrester’s probably best known these days for his role as sterling bass player for Robb Johnson (for over a decade now), his pedigree as both bassist and lyricist goes right back to the 90s, with stints in various outfits from guitar band The Colour Mary through to “ragged folkers” Pressgang and his own band SunSpeak, on the latter of which he was able to develop his songwriting to a greater extent, from which point his solo work formed a main musical focus for a while until in around 2003 exhaustion (tour-burn) set in. Subsequently, only session work and spells of bass duty with other bands like Nozzle and The Singing Loins occupied his time during a lengthy sabbatical from songwriting; John’s next burst of writing creativity occurred in 2011, and culminated in the release in 2014 of his acclaimed third solo album Outsider.
John makes no secret of the fact that he’s never felt completely happy with his released recordings prior to Outsider, considering them now to no longer accurately represent him; that’s a perfectly reasonable and understandable assessment, and a view that’s shared by a large number of artists. On the other hand, with specific reference to the songs he’d written prior to Outsider, John felt that there were some which lasted beyond their time and merited a revisit – the germ of which idea was cemented while driving home from a gig last August, i.e. the proposal “to re-record some of the older material, the way it is played now, with his voice the way it is now”. Hence The Former Me, which contains eight of John’s original songs dating from his first (pre-2003) songwriting period, supplemented by two covers (songs by The Chameleons’ Mark Nevin – Allelujah – and Mark Burgess & Yves Altana – Stop Talking), the words of which had resonated with John from the start. The latter, John admits, are untypical, in that he finds it difficult to sing someone else’s words with real conviction – but not that you’d tell here, for John shows no lack of involvement in these personal interpretations.
Even so, the focus of The Former Me (intended as a bridge between Outsider and John’s next offering, due in spring 2017) is to enable the older songs to take on a new life by means of these unadorned, mostly just vox-and-guitar renditions which, though bare and raw in nature, emerge as warm and accommodating and fully accessible to the listener. I’m not able to comment in much detail or compare individual songs, since I’m not familiar with the earlier versions (I remember Lanterns from the Seka project, but hadn’t heard several of the others before). But the songs as presented here on The Former Me seem effectively to communicate the requisite moods of resolution and regret “touched with the odd spot of poison and wonder”, although I did find that each song works best listened to in isolation rather than as a continuous set where the basic level consistency – and uniformity – of John’s delivery, not least his guitar style, can be something of a double-edged sword.
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