John Merrill "After The Flood"
Review by Aron Radford
For those who don’t know John Merrill may i suggest you read the interview he gave us last year as his story and this cd represent a real journey of self discovery and re-discovery. Unable to play conventional guitar after a horrific boating accident that meant he couldn’t fret with his left hand anymore, he thought his musical loves and desires were lost for good. That was until his discovered the weissenborn. His world was once again filled with music and self expression years, of pent up frustration gracefully and effortlessly came flooding through and so “After The Flood” is metaphorically a rebirth of “The joy of playing”. This cd represents his musical awakening and the joy and happiness is almost tangible when listening to it.
The album was an ambitious and brave concept for a first time recording venture. To cover other popular weissenborn artist already established instrumentals and make them sound fresh, different and pleasing on the ears was no easy task. Well John has accomplished those 3 criteria with aplom. Each songs sounds familiar but also different enough to work, which to me is what doing covers are all about. John has also included 3 original compositions on this cd which tells me there’s enough song writing skill in the tank not to rely on covers on his next cd. This cd will have a greater cross spectrum of appeal than possibly most weissneborn albums due to its lavish and polished accompanying arrangements, they make the cd very assessable to a broader section of ‘easy listening’ listeners. Lavish amounts of highly professional Pedal Steel, violin and piano backing arrangements pepper this album through out. This album has been recorded and produced to a very high level, lots of time and money has been put into its creation and that shows. But alas this is exactly why I feel a little flat when i hear this album. I would love to hear John play these songs with these backing tracks toned down just a notch or two to let the weissenborn shine more. The backing arrangements do congest the mix a little and John is far to good a weissenborn player to not let us hear clearer his amazing playing technique, touch and tone. The weissenborn tone here is very processed and distant and feels buried in the mix too much for my taste, i would have liked to hear it more refined and cleaner and at the forefront of proceedings. But sometimes your sound engineer just doesn’t ‘get it’ and things go down the wrong road and when you’re so invested and caught up in proceeding we don’t see the bigger picture until its too late. I think John has been brave to offer the weissenborn listening community something a little different from the norm. He has clearly set his stall out and tried to make something fuller and complex that just ‘a man and his weissenborn’ type of thing and because of this the cd stands out in a good way. It’s very very listenable and it will get many repeat plays in my house for sure. One of my main overall feelings about the cd is that it has a strong ‘country’ feel at its core thanks in the main to some tasteful accented pedal steel arrangements underpinning a lot of the backing tracks. I seriously do like the backing arrangements they are very tasteful and in the main work, and in specific cases transform proceedings to truly great heights.
The cd has 12 tracks (9 covers, 3 originals) and as if to emphasis one of my earlier comments the opening track ‘After The Flood’ is possibly my favourite tune on the cd. It’s an original composition and shows us John is a hugely talented enough composer in his own right to release an album full of original material sometime in the future. The piano backing track is particularly quite tasteful and complementary and is not too distracting from John’s great playing. ‘Serenity’ is a Troy Brenningmeyer penned track from his “Lessons With Troy’ website and incorporates some Irish themed violins and Italian style mandolins to help glide this tune along gracefully and serenely (pardon the pun), once again so tastefully done but way to loud and up front in the mix. ‘300 Miles” was written by TWiE award winning player Mat Ango and John tastefully splices in a smooth pedal steel and piano backing that really works great, but …(you know the rest).The Ed Gerhard classic arrangements of ‘Rye Whiskey’ and ‘Killing The Blues’ are expertly played in quick succession but the weissenborn is way to muddy with a super thick veneer of delay, the pedal steel backing again works really really great though. The John Lennon classic “Imagine” next gets the cover treatment and possibly the mix works in favour on this track, it feels very languid and restful just like the song should be played. ‘Sundown Slide’ is a cover from the Danish wonder kid Jacob Rågård. Now this really surprised me, for one its amazing difficult to play and secondly this version really benefits from the backing arrangements, they are so so complimentary and the whole thing just works wonderfully. Now ‘Fang’ is definitely my favourite cover on the whole album by a long chalk, the tune was written by Andreas Aase and John has really given it a new prospective to this wonderful song. It builds and broods in a anthemic arc that emotionally picks you up and brings you down so beautifully, a good song will always shine but i honestly feel this could be better than the original (don’t tell Andreas i said that though). Tipping the hat to the legend in his own lifetime Thomas Oliver, ‘Let It Not Be Lost’ has a beautiful orchestral themed backing that is truly inspired, the song really shines and so is another cover favourite of mine on the album. The John Wilde arrangement of ‘She Moves Through The Air’ has a sitar style drone backing that gives the tune a less Irish feel and more of an Indian flavour, but it works! The last two original compositions ‘String Theory’ and ‘Lavender’ are a great way to finish the cd as they showcase John’s superb song writing skills and give us a glimpse of a possible “all original” follow up release, and that my friends i can’t wait to hear one day.
Sometimes I find reviewing some albums daunting as I often know the artist very well (as in this case) and this review WAS hard but I tried to be honest and congratulatory and critical where applicable. I am so thrilled John has fulfilled a monumentous achievement like this and I for one salute him for his new found joy which he has generously shared with us all. John is kindly giving this cd away to anyone who is willing to donate to postage costs. If wish to receive a copy email John @ firstname.lastname@example.org and he will get back to you forthwith.
Copyright the weissenborn information exchange. All rights reserved.