Beautiful Beast is available shortly
Alternative; Rock; Blues
In My Dreams– 9.5
We the Ammunition– 9.5
Black Feather Blues– 9.7
How Do You Sleep? – 9.7
So Young– 9.5
Flowers and Bones – 9.5
Hold On– 9.6
Nothing Without You– 9.6
I Am a Mountain– 9.6
Love Can Build– 9.7
Searching for the Key– 9.7
Broken Bones– 9.6
Black Feather Blues; How Do You Sleep?; Love Can Build; Searching for the Key
Searching for the Key
THIS is the first time I have reviewed an album in a while and I get to…
feature one of my favourite artists. Before I mention Johhnythefirth it is worth bringing in some relevant points regarding male solo acts; albums from this year and Blues-Rock. I have mentioned solo acts a lot and how limited they can be. In the underground you have a fair few talented acts that are trying to do something original- for my money, there are too few that are standing out at the moment. Having recently immersed myself in the music of 2003/2004 (weird but a good years no less) and the likes of Dizzee Rascal, The Streets and Alicia Keys unveiled stunning albums. Over the last ten-or-so years, the mainstream has slowed and stagnated a little (when it comes to the solo realm) and the effect is taking its toll on new music. Having so few genuine stand-outs in the mainstream is not encouraging for new acts coming through. Too male solo acts are compelled to offer songs about love and relations; led by an acoustic guitar and wistful vocal- it seems to be the most popular configuration at the moment. Even those artists that push the envelope lack necessary nuance and longevity. It is a plight that is affecting the men of music (more than women) but is slightly worrying. Those that have the most potential keep things varied and do something genuinely new. It is great concentrating on love and relations- and doing acoustic numbers- but it is a cliché that is growing tired. Jonnythefirth is an artist who is restless and never stays still. One of the most innovative acts out there he is showing the male solo artists what should be done. From his debut album-era Blues-Rock soakings his latest album expands his sound and shows a rare songwriting talent in full flight. A U.K. version of Jack White, Jonnythefirth looks at older/quirky themes- coal pits and odd characters; there is a vintage wistfulness to his work- and is one of the most hard-working musicians out there. As one half of Knuckle- a stunning two-piece reminiscent of Royal Blood- and a third of Crybabycry- a Yorkshire-based act fronted by Rosie Doonan- there is no rest is the pipeline. Like White, Jonnythefirth’s most spectacular and memorable work comes when he goes solo- White’s work with The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs pales by comparison- and lets his individual voice shine. Jonnythefirth came to my attention a few years ago when he released the album Broken Bones. On that disc we got to see the young artist seduce through a 13-track album that promised much treasure and intrigue. A confident and authoritative work it showcased a fond love of Blues, Rock and Alternative sounds. These genres are often tried but few manage to really master them.
Although Jonnythefirth- in his debut album at least- had a leaning towards Jack White, his individuality and personality shone through. Attesting everything from coal-mining to local villains, the album was rife with colour, heritage and modern-day contrasts. Too many artists focus solely on love and do not really expand their sound and themes. In 2015 there is no excuse to be so limited and narrow. Johnnythefirth was exceptional early on and has stepped up his game on Beautiful Beast: an album that is tighter and more astonishing; sees the Yorkshire artist stretch his imagination and music to new heights. This year has seen few genuinely great and memorable albums from anyone really. Maybe an overstatement, I do not think there have been that many stand-out moments. In terms of new music I have been hearing a lot of E.P.s and songs- few albums have come through. The ones that have contain a few great tracks but that lack of consistency and nuance is quite telling. Perhaps it is the financial pressures- the cost of producing an album is staggering- or a lack of imagination, but I hope 2016 brings the goods. It seems that the innovation and surprise is dissipating: Jonnythefirth is an artist that seems incapable of limitation and quality-lack. Whether more in the background (Crybabycry) or sparring with a bearded Ballwanks (Knuckle) he seems effortless and fully commanding. As Knuckle’s guitar-playing half, Jonnythefirth proves himself to be one of the most assured front-men out there. When going solo something else strikes my mind: there is that comfort and confidence that is hard to ignore. Immersed in his own material he seems wrapped up in the words and everything sounds vital and electrifying. It is great to see him release another album and when it is released to the general public- it will not be too long now- the reviews will be hugely positive I can tell you. With a couple of tracks released at the moment- How Do You Sleep? and Searching for the Key are out- and you can just hear that confidence and ability radiate through. With a lackluster music year stumbling to the finish line, Jonnythefirth puts some true potential back into the scene. The next year will be an exciting one for the Yorkshire star. In addition to the album release, there are sure to be tour dates and important gigs. Continuing his work with Knuckle and Crybabycry, I am hopeful there will be new material from both- although there seems nothing confirmed at this stage. What is clear is that none of the passion and ambition is missing from Jonnythefirth. Like Jack White, Jonnythefirth can spend time with other bands without sounding fatigued or spreading himself too thin. It is when he shakes off the additional bodies that we get the best material from the young artist. Beautiful Beast showcases an exceptional songwriting talent with a load of years ahead of him. I can see Jonnythefirth being a big festival fixture next year and being in big demand. Make sure you investigate the cuts from Beautiful Beast (on SoundCloud) and get excited for what is to come.
Before I get down to a track-by-track assessment of the album, it is worth looking back and seeing how this latest release compares. Broken Bones was where it all started really- the young artist released songs before but this was the debut album- and a huge expression of intention and ambition. This 12-track album did not suffer any bloating or false economy- every track is essential; no fillers here sir- and gave the listener a great insight into Jonnythefirth and his mindset. Just the Way I’m Feeling is a jubilant and rollicking opening featuring delirious horns and one of the catchiest choruses you’ll ever hear! Fly Away is a chugging and machine-like stomp that is reminiscent of The Black Keys and The White Stripes. So much grit and raw guitar work makes it one of the album’s most urgent moments. Dirty Jokes is an instant firecracker that features catchy wordless vocals and a foot-stomping introduction. A track that never loses its energy and delirium, it is another highlight that sees the hero our hero leaving “you all behind”. Pitbull Blues is the album’s most snarling and animalistic number- hardly a shock given the title- that sees the sensitive hero let his emotions and passion explode. With Sing for the Miners providing an acoustic-led emotional close and you have an album that offers huge diversity and quality. Without missing a beat the album benefits from tremendous consideration and detail. The track-listing is bang-on- each track is exactly where it needs to be to create a perfect balance- and there is no top-heavy/bottom-heavy issues- the end is just as compelling as the beginning. What amazed me most was the confidence and authority that early on. No weakness or nerves can be heard; like Jonnythefirth has been playing for decades!
Beautiful Beast is an album that continues where its double-d predecessor left off- although there has been a gap of 3 years- and shows no fatigue or lack of ambition. Between albums we have seen the young talent produce tracks and put out material with his sister bands Knuckle and Crybabycry. The public was aching for some solo material and expectations will not be disappointed. Right from the opening salvo we get that same astonishing energy and passion that Broken Bones led with. If anything the material sounds more urgent and confident than before. When letting his voice soften and campaign Jonnythefirth sounds purer and more assured- showing himself to be a very versatile singer- and there is more of a leaning towards relations and personal investigation. Broken Bones looked at political issues and character-driven stories whereas Beautiful Beast seems more personal and angered. Whether inspired by personal events- relationship problems and the changing world- but the focus has shifted and a new agenda is on the table. This actually works in favour it seems. The jubilant and youthful passion of the debut was right and just what we needed. Were that to continue here and it would not mark an evolution of step forward. Jonnythefirth has aged slightly and he is concentrating on new ideas. The latest album sees the Yorkshire master at his peak and more natural than he has ever sounded. This is promising when it comes to future releases. An artist that changes and mutates when needed- whilst keeping his core sound and personality intact- it will be fascinating to see how he develops. Artists that spend time with other acts- Crybabycry and Knuckle are very distinct and different- would see lack of focus and concentration when it comes to solo work. Jonnythefirth suffers no such fate and if anything brings those different strands and experiences into the fold. Having spent time on the road with the two acts that extra confidence and assuredness into the studio. With a leap being made and new ground being covered, I was excited to get down to reviewing Beautiful Beast.
The album begins with some entranced and languid electronic strings. In My Dreams starts with our hero in poignant and mortality mood: “Take me to my grave/show me how I die”. Letting his voice hover and stretch it is a stunning and emotional start to proceedings. Our man is investigating his dreams and a man is coming to him (whether Death or a personal relation). There is a lot of strain and anxiety that comes through in the lyrics. The vocal remains focused and strong throughout- backed by a sparse and strummed electric guitar- and the listener will be gripped. Just as a percussion beat kicks the song up, Jonnythefirth looks at funeral scenes and tear-shedding. With nothing seeming right; there are those trouble dreams that haunt our man. The mood expands as violin comes in to provide aching romance. Swimming in a sea of confusion; Jonnythefirth puts out an aching plea and seems like he needs to prove himself. When he says “I’ve got something to show you” his voice is at its tremulous best. Maybe wracked by some doubts and fears there is that need to change things and turn his fortunes around. Our man has been to the “depths of destruction” to reach an epiphany; he has sunk and is making his way back up. The track never sounds too morbid or heavy-handed because of those passion and redemptive vocals/lyrics. Sparks of electric guitar fuse with violin; the percussion keeps the heart beating and there is a hopefulness and beauty that shines throughout. A heartfelt and stunning performance, it is a memorable and wonderful start to the album. Showcasing Jonnythefirth’s urgency and memorability and we have a lead-off track that will stay in the mind for a long time to come- setting up the rest of the album wonderfully.
Following from the wonderful opening; We the Ammunition begins with firepower and a lot of energy. Dizzying keys/electric guitar notes put me in mind of The Black Keys (their El Camino work) and gives the album a much-needed kick of Blues energy. Our hero has been saved from the ocean and given a lifeline (by an unnamed figure) and has been given a “reason to live”. Perhaps Beautiful Beast refers to life itself: it can be harsh and animal-like; it also offers beauty and humanity too. After the sad and heartbreaking opening- where there were disturbed dreams and screams- we now have hope and life affirmation. Kudos to the compositional elements which add so much vibrancy and emotion to the song- the percussion is especially meaningful and standout. After the initial sentiments of redemption and hope, the composition is then allowed to go upfront. The electric strings present a woozy and tumbling sound that create images and plenty of intrigue. Our hero is “a liar” that seems to be on the brink of a relationship crisis. It may be the case that his sweetheart is not as idea as she seems- she shoots and wounds just like everyone- and there is that sense that idealism and perfection are very far away. Perhaps based on a relationship break-up; you get the sense of a man that has been affected by his girl- and showing his hurt and dissatisfaction. Not able to see “the woods from the trees”, there is that feeling of civil war and balkanisation. By the final moments- as those vibrating and buzzing notes end things- you start to take everything in and reflect- trying to get to the bottom of things. Another wonderful and emotive track; it completes a stunning 1-2.
Black Feather Blues is right back in Broken Bones territory- separating the emotional balance to focus away from love/mortality/introspection. From the opening yowl- our boy lets his inner-wolf howl out- and you get a grizzled and gin-soaked Blues guitar parable. A feet-kicking and good-time swagger, Jonnythefirth goes back into the Wild West of Yorkshire- you can imagine a hoe-down in the coalmines as this song is played. With his voice distorted you get that raw edge that makes the song even more authentic and dramatic. “Our love is gone” as his woman put her spell on our hero- he is not cast in black feather and wondering where to go next. There is wit, innuendo and vivid imagery among the stomping percussion and boozy guitars. That buzzing and echoed voice tells of a bullet between the eyes; his girl has done him a favour now he is “going to die”. Before you predict where the song is going, you get a delirious and stunning harmonica solo that gives even more chutzpah and spark to the song. At every angle and moment you get a hell of a lot of energy and dance. A contrast and distinct shift from the opening couplet (of the album) and you have an artist that is comfortable with anything he touches. A ‘50s Blues excoriation that compels the fists to shake and the voice to reign; you cannot escape the sheer force of the song. Few will be able to escape the black magic of the song. The heroine has a heart “black as coal” and is causing distress in our man. Now that things have gone sour (he) is not coming back- it seems this love has reached the end of the road. In this number we get a tantilising slice of Bob Dylan- his Bringing It All Back Home period- and The White Stripes (who covered Bringing It Back Home’s Outlaw Blues) during their debut album. The locomotive keeps chugging and grinding; the bass drives the song with a sheer force- that enraptured guitar never relents or demurs. Towards the end, Jonnythefirth’s voice reaches fever-pitch and gets more pained- the full force of events taking their toll. A scintillating joy-ride of love-gone-wrong emotions and you have a song that is one of the album’s highlights.
How Do You Sleep? has been released on SoundCloud and goes back to the softer territory of the album’s opening couple. An aching and emotive strum beckons in the track; a song that soon builds from the tender and emotive opening strings. The album’s most intriguing number, its messages can be applied to political and love equally. The opening line- “We’re fighting for what?”- is one of the moist relevant and prescient modern-day messages that can be ascribed to political turmoil as it could the inequities of love. A song that could have come from Dylan’s early-career lyrics book; the song looks at being given a gun and sent straight to Hell. Looking at needless war and the insanity of what it represents; Jonnythefirth ensures his voice is up front and can be heard clearly. A somber and reflective song, the blood runs “all through the street”. There is money and power; we are all “dead meat”. As stones are thrown and (needless) war is waged; we all seem doomed and fated to a destructive end. How Do You Sleep? is one of the album’s most stark and standout tracks: as relevant today as it was in the early-‘60s; those fears and anxieties perfectly document the feeling we all have at the moment. Backed by ethereal and haunting vocals, you have a song that stays in the memory long after it has finished. Innocent humans are felled; the news is a depressing thing- the state of the world is worrying and hugely disturbing. Brothers and fellow man is killed- our man does not want to “march for country or king”- and you can hear that anger and fatigue come through in the performance. A political song that hits the mark and is utterly compelling- peers and contemporaries are not as apt and intelligent when it comes to politics- and you have an artist who is authoritative and staggering whether he tackles love, politics, war or fantasy realms. The song’s final manifestos look at the needlessness and pointlessness of warfare. Given guns to hunt men like game; what the hell is the f****** point of any of this?! A sobering and ever-relevant song that does more than act as a musical moment- it is a finger pointed to our leaders and ‘betters’.
So Young is a song that does not stay in the crapulence of warfare and political insanity. Once more we get some touching and soft string beginnings- reminding me of Nick Drake to an extent- as our man comes to the microphone. A delightful and touching acoustic lead, our man is looking at the leaves. Looking at the rain and we get a young man reminiscing about a time (perhaps better) that is on his mind. The road is calling and it seems like there are concerns and fears in his mind. Maybe wanting to return to better days- or unsure about his current plight and situation- and you feel like our hero wants things to improve and change. Back to a time when he was young and care-free; there is a sense of regret and longing to be found. Whilst the water is “falling on me”; the “blue skies are calling” and you have vivid images that soundtrack some emotional strains and a desirous need to return to days of the past. Showing how versatile and effective Jonnythefirth is when accounting personal doubts- he does not suffer sameness and lack of imagination- and you have a song that many can appreciate and learn from. One of the album’s most straight-forward and commercial songs; it is a song that showcases Jonnythefirth’s songwriting chops. Our man has only memories and fond recollections; that need to revoke the past makes the song so heartbreaking. That said, his memories are “all I need” so perhaps there is hope and satisfaction after all. Not as wracked and anxious as one might imagine, it seems our hero might be okay in his current mould. He has fond memories but has grown and is living a new life- perhaps things will work out for the best. A song that inspires the listener to pen their own lines- “Water is thicker than blood/when you’re caught in the flood” was my ‘attempt’- you have a jewel that needs some repeated listens.
Flowers and Bones once more injects some needed sway and merriment to the album- and provides a nice switch-and-bait. A waltz-like fairground sound welcomes the track and gets the listener standing to attention. Our man is in political territory once more- although it is the politics of the street rather than universal warfare this time- and our hero has been in this position too many times. Fighting and fisticuffs are reigning blood; the men are duking it out- a predicament that seems to be a definition of modern-day Britain. Cryptic messages and memorable scenery- flowers up the nose and silly games being played- as Jonnythefirth is lost in doubts and confusions. Having played this game, he is proud of the past and seems contented in his own skin. Intoxicating by that oom-pah-pah swing, our hero lets it be known we are young “only once”. Whereas previous numbers have looked at the need to go back to the past; here there is the message to live in the moment. As fires burn and uncertainty rules, we are only young once- that need to grab life by the horns is paramount. One of the album’s more minor players- although it has plenty of quality and plaudits- it sees Jonnythefirth in his most reflective and angry moments. The composition is one of the most interesting and varied on the album. Whereas other tracks are acoustic-based or exhilarating, here we get a mixture of emotions and colours. There is a constant energy and momentum that keeps proceedings fascinating; the song never relents its voice or dies down at all.
Hold On fades in and boasts one of the most interesting introductions on the record. Spacey and echoed, there is a sense of entrance and fascination. The hero is awake in his dreams and is laying his soul on the line. Looking for certain someone- or perhaps they are looking for him- our boy is coming and will be there. Letting his voice emote- one of the best performances across the album- there is a tear in the eye. Sounding like John Lennon at times- and his solo work especially- you get waves of emotion and heartbreak. It seems there are stresses, strains and obstacles to be faced. Our man will be “right by your side/with a tear in my eye”; that declarative love and passion cannot be faulted. Whether directed at a sweetheart or good friend, that noble sentiment and determination is hugely impressive. With the composition being kept light and uncluttered- the voice is king here for good reason- you have one of the album’s most emotional resonate and pure moments. Putting his feelings out there and sending a message across the waves, it will be interesting to see what inspired the song. Leaving no room for misinterpretation Hold On is a song that shows how beautiful and emotive Jonnythefirth’s voice can be. Seemingly expert when letting his voice emote- or rampant with lust when needed- it shows a sensitive and passionate side to the lad. You get touches of ‘70s Lennon in the song which will draw in a new generation of listeners for sure. With no cynicism or weak moments it is one of the album’s most compelling moments.
As we head into the final third of the album, Nothing Without You keeps that reflective and passionate voice firm. The introduction sees acoustic strings create scenery and set the mood. As the drum rolls and crackles, the song begins to build and expand. Vivacious organ notes and percussion bond and get the listener swaying along with the sound. A full-bodied and colourful composition, there is a return to the sonic innovation and sound of Broken Bones. Before a note has been sung, the listener is hooked. There are cracks on the skin of our man. Deep memories linger and there is that central figure in the spotlight. They are the pride and the reason he keeps on ticking- “I am nothing without you”. Whoever the girl is, they are ensuring the hero keeps ticking and moving in life. A pure love song with no agenda, you get our man putting his heart back on the sleeve. The “clock on the wall” and “everything I hold dear” there is a purity and heartfelt tone that will appeal to everyone. Whereas contemporaries can sound clichéd and predictable; here we get a song that sounds fresh and new- whilst exploring worn themes and over-represented subjects. Caught in the midst of a vital and life-affirming love, that sense of lust and desire comes out in the composition. Tumbling and shimmering strings mix with punchy and urgent beats to create something utterly compelling and entranced. One of the album’s finer moments, Nothing Without You shows a sensitive side to the Yorkshire troubadour. Showing how nimble and effective his pen can be; the song marks a step into love’s possibilities and positivity- addressing the subject with aplomb and a huge amount of emotional resonance.
I Am a Mountain takes the album back into more energetic avenues. Not as explosive as some numbers, it sees Jonnythefirth’s voice layered and at the forefront. Our man is a mountain (for his girl) and goes into Country/U.S. Folk territory. Projecting the sound of the Deep South and a good-ol’ sound; we see our hero take the listener into a new direction. Whoever he is directing the song to, it seems that they need to grow up “or pack your bags”; go on their travels and make sure they pack bread- it inspires images and very vivid possibilities. Yorkshire is directly references in a song with its heart firmly in the U.S. A song that compels singalong and chanting, you cannot escape that chorus- something that sways and shouts with addictiveness and pure force. Coming from “the land of coal”; she emanates from “the seaside town” you have two people from different climbs. Our man’s face is weathered from the northern skies. It is on this song where you get some of the most memorable and unique vocals- something that can only be penned by Jonnythefirth. His girl comes from a harsh town and barroom brawls; he is beaten and exhausted by things. I Am a Mountain is a song that is sure to delight live crowds with its catchiness and wonderful messages. The composition is one of the most interesting on the record. Violins come back in with a teasing and hissing percussion to create something that mixes U.S. Blues with Irish sounds; Bluegrass and Country mixes with Blues and Alternative- a song that causes the listener to smile and feel uplifted. Certainly one of the most catchy and memorable tracks across Beautiful Beast, it shows how versatile and wide-ranging Jonnythefirth is. One of the album’s longest tracks- it clocks at over 4 minutes- it does not feel over-long or lacking focus. A great way to welcome in the final third; I Am a Mountain has single potential and could be one of those songs that will be a live staple.
Love Can Build takes us down into romantic territories once more- with the love-gone-wrong message and pure emotion- and begins with a light and tender acoustic string-led sound. That aching violin is back in again and bristles with shivers and purity. Spellbound and entranced, you get hooked into that shimmering and gorgeous sound. Johnnythefirth lets his falsetto back out again- and into Lennon territory once more- our man is definitely the one. His girl and he are having arguments and it “breaks me”. That need to rebuild and move on is essential and there is a definite crack in the dyke. Hate is tearing things apart and things are getting a bit too much. He thought his “faith was enough” but his girl broke it down “like a lumberjack” cutting through wood. Hate can tear love down and eradicate all it stands for. Love can mend the soul and balm wounds; it seems things are too late here and there is no way back. His girl is with another love and our hero seems affected and deeply affected by this tryst. It seems like (him and his girl) has a pure love that has turned sour. His voice trembling with emotion and heartbreak, you cannot help but sympathise with our hero. One of the album’s definite highlight; you cannot deny the intentions and truth of the song. There are no fake emotions or commercial pandering: Love Can Build is a song that shows what a sensitive soul our man has. Representing the sound/tone of the album- the softer side of Jonnythefirth comes through across the record- the song distills and represents our man’s soul at its more pure and affected. Not an easy listen at times- it can feel draining putting yourself in his boots- it is a song that shows Beautiful Beast in all of its sides- from the beauty love has to the beastliness of break-ups.
It seemed like (up until this point) Black Feather Blues was a one-off apparition. With Beautiful Beast having so many acoustic-led songs- and tracks that deal with emotion disenfranchisement- it is good to hear Searching for the Key. Whilst not as exhilarating and raw as Black’; it is a track that gets back to that U.S. Blues-Rock template- and a little glimpse back at Broken Bones’ sound. This is the second track from the album to be released online and it is small wonder it has received such high praise. The early guitar noodling gives the listener a bit of a red herring- it is an inventive way to kick off and ensures there is a break-away from the acoustic openings of past songs. An aching and cooing vocal- once more lets his high notes come into things- kicks off the song. Our man is searching for the key and wanting to be free. Our man keeps on “cracking stones” and seems imprisoned and shackled to life. With his body a slave and his mind overwhelmed he is searching for a way to relinquish the tyranny. That fuzzy and buzzy electric guitar comes into play to add vibrancy and passion to the song. A lemon-zest slice of Blues; you get hooked into the guitar and its hornets’ nest of sting. Whereas previous numbers have seen our man scarred and hurt in love- having his heart broken and been screwed over once too often- here we have a more positive and hopeful track. Although he is doing community service for life, there is hope that love will bring about a rebirth and reinvention. I am unsure whether a particular girl in is mind- or whether it is a general plea to the masses- but it is clear our hero is looking for a sweetheart to help ease the burden. Echoed vocals mutates into a rapturous and explosive break-down of drums and guitars. Heavy and pulsating, there is a monster riff that strikes across the heavens. Our man lets his voice shout and screech through the mire. The percussion pummels and punches whilst the guitar crackles and vibrates with snarling teeth. One of the most rapturous and intense vocals on the record, it shows our man at the peak of his passions. Searching for love- and his mind “like a disco ball”- you cannot shake off that intensity and overwhelming passion. One of the album’s longest tracks- it never feels overlong or needlessly loquacious- it is a song that is utterly compelling from start to end- and marks as the album’s standout track. So much buzz and paen has been paid to this song and it is not hard to see why. Recalling his debut album’s sound and raw raggedness, it will also entice many new fans- it is a hugely electrifying track. Recalling Grunge and ‘70s Hard-Rock- you can imagine Led Zeppelin tackling something like this- you get such a mixture of musicians and images. Little shades of the guitar greats- Hendrix and White; Clapton and Kirk Hammett- come to mind as the song intoxicates fully. Our man is a pile of broken bones; his girl will be that which sets him free. “Love can build a home/if you can find the key”. Our hero is searching for the key and previous songs are named-checked- including We Are the Ammunition and Nothing Without You (with Love Can Build)- which is a nice little touch. It is clear Jonnythefirth has been affected by heartbreak and strains in the past. At this stage he is looking for love and seeking something meaningful. Beautiful Beast acts as a concept record: from the opening number to this moment we get a progression and definite story-line unfolding; emotional arcs that could fit into a stunning and emotive whole. A track that is unpredictable and interchangeable- it alters course without a moment of notice- it is a huge and dramatic tracks that declares the necessity of love and all it can bring. Wanting emancipation and freedom, you are campaigning to see our boy gets it- he certainly deserves love and comfort. It is the album’s longest track but any shorter and it wouldn’t be as good- that is why it is Beautiful Beast’s most vivid, spectacular and animal-like jam.
Ensuring the album ends with some kick- and direct references his debut album- and Broken Bones arrives. A cheery and upbeat guitar opening sees that momentum and pace continue. Country-fied and skipping, the track sees our man with heartache and “black eyes from the girl who loves me so”. Our hero has nobody fighting his corner and is stressed by the modern world- including headaches from mobile phones. A song that harks to the past- with its old-time sound and sensation of U.S. Bluegrass- and taps into modern concerns; the river-flow pace and scatter-gun vocals are arresting and brilliant. When our man was a little boy he thought he would be “the king of everything”. Now he is grown he would rather be a fool than a king- maybe harking to political issues and ineptitude they display. Having gained nothing from the town he was born; our man misses that “shitty town” and is headed back home. Nose bleeds and black eyes seem secondary to the biggest issue of all: regressing to a town that is undesirable and crap. People have abandoned our man- he has gained nothing from his hometown- and it ends the album with a few questions looming. You wonder whether our man is running away from love’s woes and has abandoned his ambitions and desires. Maybe he is feeling homesick and wants to revert back to a childlike state. Perhaps the answer is simpler: he is out of ideas and just need to think things through. Whatever the answer; Broken Bones is a fitting swansong and it will be fascinating to see how he follows it up.
There will be a lot of people looking forward to a new album- even before Beautiful Beast has dropped- as the latest cut shows Yorkshire’s Jonnythefirth in fine form. Whereas Broken Bones was Blues-Rock heavy and concentrated on heavier sounds; on Beautiful Beast we get a sonic and tonal shift. Maturing and developing as an artist we are witness to a transformation. Jonnythefirth keeps his voice and writing intact but instead goes for a softer and more emotional sound. Broken Bones was a raw and White Stripes-esque affair that was more synonymous with its characters and heavier sound. Not having abandoned that template at all- Searching for the Key and Black Feather Blues harkens back to that sound- our hero has opted for a more sensitive and tactile sound. Whereas the debut album was a chance to get inside the imagination of a young man; here we are offered a chance to get inside the heart and soul of a man. It is a change that has not resulted in any quality dips or issues. There are one or two songs (on this album) that do not burn as pure and bright; for the most part Beautiful Beast is an accomplished and hugely impressive effort. I know how hard Jonnythefirth campaigned to get the album funded- and how much effort he puts into his music- and that comes through in every track. Due to the emotional balance and confidence on this record we get a natural development from Beautiful Beast– an album that surpasses Broken Bones whilst keeping its vibrant alcohol-soaked sound in place when needed. The two tracks that are online now- Searching for the Key and How Do You Sleep? – perhaps best represent the sides of Beautiful Beast. The former showcases a man with a sensitive soul and a need for love. Doing this with some vibrant Blues-Rock sounds- and a composition which evolves into something monumental- and you have a great emotional balance. The latter shows a political edge that is very apt at the moment. Broken Bones had some political moments although nothing as intense and focused as this. In a time where terrorism and hostility are a daily horror, the song is almost a soundtrack for our times (sadly). It would have been nice to see a Just the Way I’m Feeling-type track on Beautiful Beast although it is a minor critique. Jonnythefirth is in a different place now and has been through the emotional ringer. There is plenty of positivity afoot but his soul and heart have been dented and betrayed the last couple of years- it is appropriate the album reflects this rather than trying to laugh it off or disguise it. Whilst most contemporaries- who put out an album of heartbreak- would be boring and clichéd Jonnythefirth’s musical gifts and songwriting abilities transcend the songs to ratified heights. That personal pen and voice dictate proceedings and ensure that the album sounds like an original and distinct creation- perhaps more so than the debut it seems.
Congratulations must go to our hero and the musicians that help create such a stunning record. There is such a wealth of musical colour throughout the record. Bringing in violin to the fold and you get plenty of romance and swooning passion- it is an instrument that is sadly lacking from a lot of modern music- that gives the album some of its finest moments. Our lead’s guitar chops are at their best and hugely impressive. From the monstrous riffs of Searching for the Key to the guttural and cigarette-strewn burn of Black Feather Blues; there is more depth and range now. The more emotive and love-affected numbers see the acoustic guitar shine bright and linger in the memory. The percussion beats are constantly impressive and essential. Giving the record its tangible heartbeat and energy, the percussion is more developed and nuanced than on previous efforts. Throw in some guiding and melodic bass; some wonderful keys and production values that are exceptional throughout and you have one of the most assured and impressive albums this year. Not yet available to the public, ensure you snap up an album that is set to be one of the best you’ll hear. Whether you are new to Jonnythefirth (or not) it will not matter: the music transcends boundaries, tastes and expectations- the Yorkshire lad has upped the game and shown just how what a musical talent he is. With a mighty sharp pen- deftly able to convince when political, heartbroken and plain vengeful- it is worthy keeping your peepers on the bearded wonder. Whereas the likes of Jack White are starting to fade slightly- The Dead Weather are not at their best; The Raconteurs may be over- it is stunning to see such a busy musician remain focused and consistent. Whether Knuckle and Crybabycry continue working into 2016 it is clear Jonnythefirth will be a man-machine on a musical quest. From its vivid album cover to the wealth of treasure throughout, Beautiful Beast is a staggering album that begs for repeated listens and a keen ear- an album that rewards those who adore music and all it stands for.
Beautiful Beast is a beautiful, bright and varied album that sees Jonnythefirth at the top of his game. The genesis and birth of the album was a challenging one. Like a lot of musicians, there was a Kickstarter campaign to ensure funds could be raised. Due to generosity and plain common sense he hit his target and was allowed the chance to get into the studio. With modern music being sticky and troublesome- the funds and commitment needed are extraordinary- it is a relief to hear the bearded wonder back doing what he does best. I loved Broken Bones for its Blues-Rock passions and mix of emotions- from the uplifting Just The Way I’m Feeling to War Song’s swooning romance and unforgettable imagery- but find Beautiful Beast to be even better. The exceptional production values and songwriting standards are all intact yet Jonnythefirth seems more confident and committed than he ever has. The material is more varied without losing focus; there is more a political edge (whether influenced by recent events) and the whole album sounds completely intoxicating. Before signing off on this one- a relief for those who have made it this far I am sure! – it is worth circling to my main themes and predicting the future for Jonnythefirth. Blues-Rock and Alternative sounds are difficult ones to tackle and I find a lot of artists/bands can get the mixture right. That said, I have heard too few great examples coming through this year. Too many artists tend to replicate other acts and go for stadium-sized anthems and Foo Fighter-esque jams. What Jonnyhefirth does is produce songs that have that Blues-Rock heritage- the classic sounds the likes of The White Stripes and The Black Keys play- whilst giving it a modern twist. It is not just the sound which is exceptional but the subject matter. Pulling in some disreputable characters with political motifs; romantic disentanglement with personal introspection- you have a songwriter with a vibrant imagination and a clear passion for music. What strikes me about Beautiful Beast– and indeed Broken Bones and subsequent work- is the compositions and vocals. Jonnythefirth cannot be easily compared with other singers out there- keeping his accent intact and not making it sound American and fake- whilst the compositions bring in brass and Yorkshire bliss with some U.S. Blues grit- throw in some ragged and raw guitar sounds. Make sure you snap up Beautiful Beast when it is released: the album is contradictory, stunning and beautiful as its title suggests. The Yorkshire lad has done proud and produced an album that ranks as one of the best I have heard in several years. The male solo realm produced too many acoustic-led artists that put their heart on their sleeve and leave it there. Love is a subject matter that is hard to make original and completely fresh. Those acts that use it is a spring-board- whilst concentrating on issues separate from this- are those that have the longevity and pick up the originality points. The girls of new musical have been leaving the most indelible footprints on the music of 2015 and it seems like that make continue into the following year. I am not sure what is happening with the solo chaps at the moment: there are a few genuine kings out there yet few fulfill any sort of real promise. This review is not a passion piece but a genuine investigation of one of music’s most innovative and stunning solo talents. Someone wholly passionate and in love with music; Jonnythefirth is an artist that understands the importance of originality, diversity and expanding the imagination. Within Beautiful Beast we get political distress, personal quests and heartfelt pleas for love. That sensitive-cum-raw outer skin is the mark of an artist who can paint in vibrant colours without losing authority; he can dim the lights without casting everything in pitch black- essentially he can cover a myriad of subjects/themes and make everything sound compelling and fresh. I am sure the next year will be a busy one for Jonnythefirth- if he spends some time in the studio with Crybabycry and Knuckle- as he will be embarking on tour dates. Beautiful Beast is an album that will see the Yorkshire ripper (in a musical sense not the serial killer) seduce and conquer the musical world. A songwriter who gets more fascinating and strong with each passing release; someone who is going to be a huge name in years to come. I hope he comes and plays a London gig soon- there are venues that will be lining up for sure- and it would be great to review/interview Jonnythefirth (and share a few beers) and catch up. For those new to the music of Jonnythefirth ensure you do not miss out and get involved. Few modern artists have the ability to stick in the mind and offer quality and amazement on every release. Here is an artist that has produced an album that is rife with passion, nuance and glistening gems. With that considered it seems…
BEAUTIFUL beast is a very rare species indeed.