Jon Hart has been feted as the 'Next big thing' by no lesser journal than the mighty Acoustic magazine, so praise indeed. He has also received impressive reviews and coverage from, amongst others, Guitar World magazine and David Sinclair, Rock & Pop critic in the London Times.
Jon has been described as 'One of the UK's emerging multi instrumentalists, merging virtuoso finger style guitar with vocal harmony and beat boxing'. Influences include Andy McKee, Antoine DuFour, Imogen Heap, Jon Gomm, Newton Faulkner and Sting, so a real eclectic bunch! Lastly, Jon also spreads himself around and works as a session musician, offers workshops, tuition, plays at functions and has numerous product endorsements from the likes of Elixir strings and G7 Capos, so clearly he is no slouch at marketing himself either.
After two very well received EP's put out in 2013 and 2014, this first full album 'Reborn'was released in May 2015.
Looking through his biography and influences, I think it is reasonable to assume Jon is a finger style guitarist first and foremost, with his vocal and beat boxing more supplementary and supportive to his playing. A look at the lead video 'Windchime' on his website suggests this is the case, a lovely piece full of percussive slaps, fancy fretting and tapping with an airy, multi tracked vocal over the top. To those unfamiliar with this type of playing, the video really illustrates the movement, technique and ability on display, something that may not be so obvious with just the audio track. I think this also highlights a possible difficulty in translating an admiration and appreciation of this musical virtuosity to an enjoyment of the final musical offering as a complete performance. Luminaries in the finger style field such as Andy McKee and Jon Gomm enjoy a truly massive following on YouTube and with fellow guitarists, but this is not necessarily translated into mainstream popularity, commercial success or radio plays. A further consideration is how the song is served. For example wonderful singer - songwriters like Richard Thompson and Martin Simpson are equally renowned for their guitar playing, but this playing is always in service of the song. A charge occasionally levelled against the Andy Mckee's and Jon Gomm's of the world, is that their wonderful playing and technique sometimes feels to be at the expense of the song.
With this album, therefore, I was very interested to see how the balance between guitar, voice and beat box would stack up as a whole sound.
The first track 'Sticks and Stones' opens with a lovely, percussive guitar part before Jon's voice enters with a real 'in your face' vocal and the whole song drives along beautifully.
'Awkward Silence' is a slower number featuring the vocal more than guitar and is in and out quickly at 1 minute 12 seconds.
The previously mentioned 'Windchime' is an early standout track, featuring a particularly evocative guitar part.
'Waves' is a slower, more meditative instrumental piece with some lovely harmonics and again is sure to not outstay its welcome at just 1 minute 46 seconds.
Throughout, the recording and production are universally splendid capturing all the guitar nuances, tones, dynamics and percussive body taps and slaps.
The live version of 'Father' featured here also boasts the best vocal performance on the album in my view. Perhaps because it is a live recording the vocal is very present whereas on some of the other tracks it has a little more of a distant, processed feel which I am personally not so keen on.
The rest of the album continues in this vein of longer guitar and vocal songs interspersed with short instrumentals plus a couple of full lengthers in the title track 'Reborn' and 'Red Room'. 'Red Room' is my favourite instrumental on the album with its 'Chris Woods Groove' and really chugs along! Chris Woods is another finger style guitarist of great renown and not only collaborates with Jon musically but was co producer of this album also.
Further stand out tracks are 'Stormy Weather Rolls'. 'Wight' and 'Have It'. This last track most obviously shows Jon's beat boxing to good effect and features a fine syncopated, almost rapped vocal over multi tracked backing harmonies. Clever song this.
Overall, a strong debut CD that displays Jon's playing and performance to very good effect. I have some reservations about how it will be received in circles outside of those that are most appreciative of this particular style of playing, but I also think that within the fourteen self-penned tracks there are enough that have more commercial, mainstream appeal to take it out of a niche market. Given its technical demands, playing to this standard is always going to be a labour of love and the drive, passion and commitment on this album is unmistakeable.
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