By: Sean Taylor
On the real first day of spring in Ottawa an email arrived asking me to write a cd review for the new self titled album from Jon Middleton- one half of the Jon and Roy moniker from BC.. While I was enjoying my first backyard beer and warm rays of the year I gave the music a few plays. I have to say that in this environment after a typical drawn out punishing winter it might be tough to be completely objective- but I'll give it a shot.
As the cd opens and one, and then two basic songs pass through the speakers I'm generally impressed but I can't quite put my finger (or ear) on exactly what is doing it for me. It’s the completely untouched sound of the guitar on Driving South that puts some words in my head. These words include rustic, relaxed and soothing. Listening to the first two songs, I have been struck not so much with the songs but the production of the music. The simple melody and song on Under a Mountain seem to be complemented beautifully by the sparse almost lo-fi production values. Now that’s not to say we're listening to ragged tones or vocals, but more the bedroom approach. As I continued through the album I had a recurring notion of the sounds of Springsteen’s Nebraska. It’s not rare, but it is satisfying when a songwriter can simply lean on the craft of the song rather than additional accompaniment or electronic manipulation.
By the time I made it back to song 3 on the second listen I had comparisons of Mason Jennings, some Dylan and primarily The Wood Brothers in my mind. Going South was the first standout track that I heard and made me take notice and really pay attention. I think it had just taken me so long to recognize what was really making me listen and it was the voice of Jon. While not a singer that is going to belt out Caravan or Shelter, his voice has a wonderfully vulnerable sound. His songs border on straining without ever venturing near pushing past the song, but are served here as a compliment to the delicate strumming and picking on almost every number.
Each song seems to contain a very nice and simple melody as though Jon is so comfortable with his songs that he doesn’t need the flash of a guitar solo or percussion. I tend to agree as most of the songs speak for themselves and the message or story is at the forefront. It is this point that makes me draw a comparison to the Wood Bros. While the vocals are not as strong and the guitar paying not as impressive it is the overall attention to detail within the song rather than an overly slick production that had me listening to each song intently.
I can’t be sure with a lack of an EPK but I'd be willing to guess that producer Stephen Franke plays lead on the instrumental track Drifting. This is the first track on the album without vocals and is an opportune moment to appreciate the simple beauty of Jon's approach. When the final E sounded it felt as though I had just taken a short beautiful journey through my favorite back country road.
Following the pattern of the earlier music, the lyrics of the next song filled my head with imagery and I tapped my foot and grinned a bit. I can be a bit of a sucker for a good three chord song, so I'm not looking for extended solos or a sea of strings- and to this point this album delivers. It’s a slow burn that took me two listens but overall I'd say this is a great bit of music to fire up on the patio this summer- maybe after the afternoon beers and burgers are cleared away and when everyone is content to sit and watch the sunset in silence.
Over the past few years there has certainly been a resurgence of music that tends towards folk, country and this old time music that is being produced by a host of artists is becoming increasingly popular with the mainstream. If this trend continues Jon could take this album to a whole new audience and certainly impress.