John Blek: Thistle & Thorn review – Force of nature

Wed, Jan 30, 2019, 09:01


Thistle & Thorn

John Blek



“Thistle and thorn, they broke my fall,” sings Cork-based John Blek of a prickly misadventure. Typically, the corrosive tickle incurred from such botanical contact becomes etched into sensory memory for future precaution.

It’s ironic, then, that Blek’s fourth solo album, Thistle & Thorn, is populated with pleasantly inviting and soothing melodies akin to Townes Van Zandt’s early output. The endearing arrangements, recorded between Kentucky and Clonakilty, evoke the restorative and serene simplicity of the outdoors.

An acoustic guitar is Blek’s steadfast companion for the duration of the record. The crisp finger-picking counteracts the folk singer’s husked cadence, culminating in a gratifying balance. The occasional swell of strings or harrowing piano chords (on Hannah) presents a variety of textures and moods to the stripped-back arrangements.

Nature – snow, sycamore trees and scorched embers – predominantly structure Blek’s songwriting, whether it’s his song titles (The Blackwater, Lily in the Garden) or descriptive lyrics of red berries and apple orchards on Colours Rising.

Thistle & Thorn, Blek’s ode to nature, which aptly coincides with the anticipation of spring’s first bloom, is his most accomplished work to date.