Devon folk artist John Smith shows why he was praised by the late legend John Martyn with this collection of acoustic guitar tracks, imbued with hints of blues and bluegrass. These songs are simple, but beautifully crafted with vivid emotion and finesse.
The soft acoustic plucking and slow drawl of 'Map Or Direction' opener 'Invisible Boy' sparks an initial worry that Devon singer songwriter John Smith will turn out to be as common as his very name. A weak opening it may be, but by track two, that fear has all but completely subsided, as a funky, offbeat rhythm drives 'Hands' forward. Yes, 'Map Or Direction' is an acoustic folk album, but almost as integral are Smith's blues influences, which first become apparent on the stark, unaccompanied intro of 'Axe Mountain', and continue to weave their way subtly throughout, particularly notable on the sullen guitar instrumental, 'Oliver'.
Smith has a considerable knack for storytelling too, each and every line coloured by a deeply affecting, sandy husk of a voice, brimming with emotion and character. And strange though it sounds, there's an enormous depth of feeling in his guitar playing as well. The nine original songs here have a timeless quality, while traditional folk song 'Death and the Lady' is brought into the 21st century with a reverberating arrangement of earnest strings and echoing handclaps. The sense of passion and authenticity here is impossible to resist.
Yes, there are a number of places where 'Map Or Direction' exhibits relatively typical fare, but they are far outweighed by those that stop you in your tracks with their honesty and beauty. Not just another man with a guitar.