Ash Johnson – The Mad Ship
With a style that marries the dark yet impassioned sound of 90s alternative with the adept storytelling of classic Americana, Ash Johnson’s debut album is a consistent and accomplished first step. Ash’s songwriting is the real draw of the record, covering everything from the loss of a friend on ‘All At Sea’, the ever-present wraith of ageing on ‘Quoting Waters’, to the dark side of small town life on ‘Cloudform’. Each track in its own way offers a mature and enlightened view of its subject matter alongside rich expressive imagery, while still retaining an accessible feel and an inviting melody. Simply put, The Mad Ship contains some of the finest songwriting you’ll find this year.
Ash’s world-weary vocals, while unique, charming and befitting the tone of the record, are not the strongest. They can sometimes get a little lost in the mix, meaning that bit extra care and attention needs to be paid to not miss out on the lyricism. Musically while there are some great stand-out moments, like the acoustic guitar on ‘All at Sea’ and the echoing expanse of ‘Azazel’, much of the album feels to be occupying the same tone and pace. A little change, such as a couple of tracks to either up the ante or strip things back, would make a world of difference for future releases. While it has some faults, what it doesn’t have is filler. Each track here is as essential and artful as the next; a trait that is becoming increasingly rare. All debuts have their teething problems, but few show such raw talent as this.