Ady Johnson "Tell the Worry Dolls"
Worry dolls are a Guatemalan folk tradition, whereby you whisper your anxieties to tiny knitted effigies before going to sleep and hopefully in the morning, you will find the dolls have taken those fears away. It’s an appropriate motif for Ady Johnson’s début album as unlike so many earnest young men with an acoustic guitar and a couple of Nick Drake records, Johnson does not use his songs to wallow in angst but to disperse it. The result is an ebullient, life affirming collection with a touch of kitchen-sink romanticism worthy of Ray Davies and a bluesy sound filtered through the uniquely English lens of skiffle.
The album is also shot through with enough individuality to ensure that nearly every song is compelling. Johnson’s voice is probably the most noticeable idiosyncrasy and admittedly some may find it an acquired taste. He tends to sing in a slightly skewed harmony to the underlying chord and the way he can switch suddenly from lambent whisper to throaty holler can be quite disconcerting. However, once you’re familiar with its foibles, it’s the sort of voice which can inspire a great deal of affection.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s guitar work is the perfect foil for his vocals, picking out skittering rhythms and just the right dissonant notes. The arrangements are similarly adroit, eschewing the fulsome orchestration which is so often associated with acoustic singer-songwriters for a more imaginative and colourful panoply including brass and hammered dulcimer. When these bold strokes are juxtaposed, they don’t always come off and sometimes the results sound lacking in finish. But whilst this album shouldn’t be oversold, it certainly represents a distinctive vision and that is always something worth pursuing.