John Smith – Hummingbird review: First-rate folk

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Artist: John Smith
Genre: Singer / Songwriter
Label: Commoner/Thirty Tigers

There is a moment during a guitar break on Hares on the Mountain, one of five traditional tunes that British folkster John Smith covers on his entrancing new album, when a lone note kisses the air and lingers in the silence before playing resumes. The timing and the tone are breathtaking, a mark of a performer in the zone. Smith understands the continuum of traditional music, how each voice hears it anew. Hummingbird subtly asserts his own credentials, as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, while paying homage to the likes of Richard Thompson, Nic Jones and John Renbourn. Producer Sam Lakeman called in family and friends, in the person of singer Cara Dillon and musicians John McCusker and Ben Nicholls, to colour the sound but it remains a restrained production, with the emphasis on Smith's husky, deeply empathetic reading of all 10 tracks. These include seasoned songs Lord Franklin and Unquiet Grave. Of his three songs, the title track, with its Thompson influence, will enjoy a long life, as will Boudica, his haunting ode to the Celtic heroine. The jury is still out on his gory tale Axe Mountain (Revisited), but it too fits into the prevailing pattern of obsessive love.