There is the tintype and there is the daguerreotype. There are metal cards, now peddled at amusement parks and America’s tourist traps to families looking to look at their brood in the light of the 1800s, for just $29.95. There are carte de visite and old ivory and velvet books of random and unknown photographs that transfer from hand to hand for princely sums at auctions. There are modern-day reproductions of these things, available in all sizes, with shiny faces or matte. And there are the reproductions that hark back to days of yore — the instagrams and the Polaroids.
There is folktronica and there is folk metal. There is progressive folk and there is freak folk, calling to those of us that enjoy tradition with a side of something that is nearly unidentifiable. There is folk on vinyl and there is downloadable folk, made accessible to the masses despite the fact that it’s a genre that was born in a one room cabin with a dirt floor. There are variations, left and right, and directly in front of us.
Then there is Little John. Propelled by the eccentric and unusual voice of John Dickson and backed by a choir of the obvious grandsons and grand-daughters of old timers, it’s a picture of perfect folk. Between the swelling arrangements and the occasionally off-kilter vocals that might throw the back seat singer off until the songs are in their bones, it’s almost as if there are two songs within each. There is what is happening in the foreground, what we immediately notice and unconsciously stick with for the first three or four listens. But then there is what’s in the background, what hides itself until you give the record a chance. This is folk that beautifully and perfectly encompasses that one room cabin with a dirt floor while it opens the creaky door wide open to views of the folk we listen to today.
There is truly nary a foul song on Put Your Hands On Me. There is nothing here but emotion, upended by hope and a banjo. There is the realization that perhaps a band of Australians can do it just as good as any American, born into this genre (whether they will realize or admit it, notwithstanding). Score one for the case against American exceptionalism, right there. I’ve talked in a thousand times two run-on sentences about the pull that the family vibe folk music carries with me, making it a kind of music that, as I grow older and thus wiser, I appreciate and truly feel, and this is yet another example of that. But here the musicians are not striving for it; It’s simply coming naturally. It’s jams and tunes and strums with the ability to captivate the audience of yesterday, those raised in the sticks of America (when it was still made up on nearly nothing other than sticks) and yet, it possesses the qualities that, I presume, would motivate a crowd of 2000 in the 2000s to clap together as one and sing along.
Obviously, this is the best folk album I’ve heard this year, perhaps in the last five. Discovering it, falling in love with it, watching it infect my brain and swell my heart, has been lovely. It’s abstract, a bit confusing and unnerving there in the beginning. On the fourth listen, which you forced yourself to make it to, it sets in and before long, by the time you’re on the third play for the seventh straight day in a row, there it is. Love.
If you like anything that you love, I highly encourage the listening and subsequent purchase of this album.
Little John :: Put Your Hands On Me [MP3]
Little John :: Ain’t Ever Gonna Leave You [STREAM]
Little John :: Longing To Hold You [STREAM]