(5 / 5)
This is a truly stunning singer-songwriter release. John Statz. A new name to me and I am really, really, really pleased to make his acquaintance. The quality never dips across these 10 sublime cuts.
No fat anywhere on the production or the arrangements and his distinctive and chilled vocal holds the attention from the off, from opener “Cashmere” to the finale, “Two Weeks”. A haunting quality to each crafted track which stays with you long after first listen. A ‘less is more’ production approach, where space adds huge value and allows the songs to breath.
They say the very best singers serve the song. That they are merely the conduit for delivery. True that here. There is a solid emotional connection between singer and song, and if you dig the likes of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Todd Snider, Townes van Zandt, Steve Earle and their ilk, then this cool Colorado cat is gonna float your boat.
It has a West Coast feel at times, and then a Greenwich Village vibe, plus Nashville Americana flavours. Mr Statz has got it goin’ on. He plays acoustic guitar here and takes all the lead vocals. Ably supported by Megan Burtt on acoustic guitar, piano and backing vocals, Patrick Lee on piano and organ, Brandon Meagher on drums and percussion, Casey Sidwell on bass, Julian Peterson on mandolin, electric guitar and backing vocals and Beth Rosbach on cello. Produced by fellow Denver songwriter Megan Burtt in Denver, Colarado in September and October 2016. All the songs were written or co-written by John Statz apart from “Bad Man” by Caitlin Harnett.
Track four “Independence Pass” is a standout, a gorgeous feel to it; very much Tom Petty territory and so infectious. The following track, “Red Rose Motel,” is a frantic piano driven rocker in a Springsteen style. Love John’s vocal phrasing on this one. The excellent ballad “Long Time”, builds in intensity and has a smouldering beauty to it. The stripped down and sweet “With Some Horses” nods to Simon and Garfunkel. Penultimate cut, “Tell Yourself The Truth” nails a great groove and Staz steps outside his laid back, comfort zone vocal style to step it up a few gears, for a more rambunctious and more aggressive approach. “Two Weeks” ends things on a high with a mesmerising mid-tempo heavy vibe.
John Statz has released seven studio albums, and performed all over North America (including Canada and Mexico) and Europe, all in just a shade over a decade. He has attracted the attention of the likes of Americana scene heroes Jeffrey Foucault and Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams, Greg Brown), who separately produced his last two records.
The title of The Fire Sermon was taken from the third section of T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Wasteland, the name of which was borrowed from a sermon given by Buddha, in which he denounced the fires of passion, hatred, and infatuation with which the senses burn, according to Eliot’s endnotes. At the very end of the Fire Sermon section Eliot simply repeats, “Burning burning burning burning.”
John Statz was given a guitar by his grandmother when he was 15, and after ten years of piano lessons, had lost interest in classical music, taken to learning John Lennon and Elton John tunes, first trying out his singing voice and turning towards rock and roll. He began writing his own songs at 19 while attending university. His first record, “Dusk Came Slow”, was engineered by a friend enrolled in the University recording programme, and what followed for John has been 11 years of touring, honing his chops.
This record is something very special indeed, and most definitely one of my hot picks of the year thus far in any genre. It prompted me to pause it half way through, to look up John Staz on the ‘net to check if he had any UK dates planned this year, to go see him live. I cannot tell you how gutted I am, to see he played a gig less than 30 minutes from my house last month while on a UK, Ireland and European tour. Next time….
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’