We love mavericks here at Blabber’n’Smoke and Canadian John Southworth certainly fits into that category. Previous releases include an album of rejected jingles (Failed Jingles for Bank of America & other U.S. Corporations) and Easterween – a surreal cabaret-operetta described as “Part klezmer, part Weimer-era cabaret, part acid trip in the basement of a Transylvanian pub.” Who could resist that? A listen to some of the songs from these projects reveal an artist who is a wee bit Jeffrey Lewis, a wee bit Michael Marra, a weird combination indeed but one that might give you an idea of his sly genius and especially his way with words.
Niagara is of course the famous falls that constitutes part of the border between Canada and the USA and Southworth has lighted on the concept of issuing a double album composed of a Canadian side and an American side saying “each side is a simultaneous interpretation of the same crisis” adding that the Canadiana-leaning tracks are “spacious, numinous, Scorpion and evergreen,” while the U.S.-inspired back half is “unhinged, noir, mythical and metallic.” So there.
I reckon that Southworth is being more mischievous rather here than hoping to deliver a definitive statement exploring the sounds and psyches of both sides of Niagara but I could be wrong. What he does do is deliver 20 songs (nine Canadian and 11 American) accompanied by his band, the South Seas, that are very accomplished with his lyrics somewhat gnomic while the music ranges from jaunty piano led pop, smoky jazz lounge loucheness and tender wounded confessionals. If there’s a distinction between the two discs then it might be that the Canadian side has a more wintry feel, there are moments when one can imagine snowflakes falling on the keyboards, while the American side is neon lit and more assertive. Whatever, both sides are stuffed full of songwriting gems with Southworth’s lyrics always interesting, his frail yet arresting vocals captivating and the music wonderfully arranged.
There’s Jacques Brel inspired chanson on Niagara Falls Is Not Niagara Falls, brass band tomfoolery on Fiddler Crossed The Border, dappled folk on Folk Art Cathedral, pulsating power pop on Hey I Got News For You, skewed wordsmithery on If It Doesn’t Please The Gods (a song that so recalls Nilsson and Paul Williams), Brian Wilson melancholy on Loving You and a fantastic swoon of a song on She Is My Niagara Falls that is nothing less than hypnotising. With 20 songs to choose from the current favourite is Womb Of Time that to our mind encapsulates the album. Innocent on the surface with a dark underbelly and lyrics that are childlike and repetitive its heartbeat pulse captivates and enthrals but we’ve only scratched the surface here as the album deserves to be savoured slowly.
Southworth has some UK dates lined up later in the year, see here including an Edinburgh date on November 3rd.