The Upshot: Record Store Day 12” gem is a pure joy.
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Listening to Pete Doherty on this special release for Record Store Day is a pure joy. “The Whole World Is Our Oyster” channels The Kinks, with a Harry Rag shuffle to it, the track shows that Pete Doherty views himself as something of an heir to Ray Davies slightly off kilter pop imaginings leavened by a doe-eyed view that love can be something simple, pure and burden free. The live version which follows is a slightly more clamorous affair. Here Doherty is able to imbue the song with a backyard bbq’s boozy ambience. Sounding like he’s imbibed a few Michelob’s the track gains a little bit of heft as Doherty plays the troubled troubadour to perfection.
The flip side with Gallon Drunk front man James Johnston, is night to Doherty’s day. James Johnston has shown a love for 50’s and 60’s noir throughout his career. “Dark Water” is a ballad that is breathtaking to listen to, conjuring the soulful gospel of 1950’s America. Here Johnston’s voice shines with a wistful, romantic luster. I’ve followed Johnston’s music for most of my adult years and this is simply hands down one of the best tracks he’s laid down. The song is split into two sections the piano ballad and then breaks into a musical coda of sorts that has some beautiful organ and soulful vocals lurking just beneath the surface. My only criticism of the song is that it seems to fade out too abruptly. This is one of those tracks that could have used a longer slow fade at the end. I would say if this song doesn’t find its way onto a film’s soundtrack it’ll be a real crime.
The second track is a live number entitled “St Martha’s”. Here Johnston plays piano and is backed by a string quartet. It’s an elegiac song of regret and reconciliation with the past that builds slowly yet assuredly into a song that pulls at your heart strings and fulfills itself as an emotional release for both singer and audience. Johnston has a voice that resonates deeply into one’s heart. He sings with such assured conviction that he could sing the phone book and you’d have tears in your eyes by the end of it. Johnston is a rare breed of singer that is able to truly channel the turbulence of emotions that we carry with us as we walk through this life, without an ounce of pretense.
If these songs by James Johnston are anything to go by then fans have a lot to look forward too when Clouds Hill release his solo album in the not too distant future. He’s been a busy man between Gallon Drunk, Lydia Lunch, and the imminent PJ Harvey Record here’s hoping that he gets the recognition he so rightly deserves.
DOWNLOAD: “Dark Water”, “St. Martha’s”, “The Whole World Is Our Playground (Live)”