You have to feel for singer-songwriters sometimes; they write a song, generally with the intention of baring their soul a little, and perform it to the best of their ability. And what happens? Well, the bulk of us music listeners put them in a box clearly marked ‘SINGER SONGWRITERS’.
Sure, we take them out to play sometimes, but generally only those whom we have seen play live or those who have somehow managed to get a lot of positive press. We don’t stick all bands in the same box, or novels, or films; but singer-songwriters tend to get ghettoized.
Maybe it’s because in our minds Radiohead were right; and anyone can play guitar. Maybe it’s because simply arranged songs with the emphasis on lyrics are never going to have us hiring up the volume on our ipods. Whatever the reason it leaves someone like John Carroll in a bind when it comes to getting his name out there. The fact he currently lives in China means, on this side of the world at least, we won’t be won over by his live performances any time soon. So what are his chances if we just take his music at face value?
Pretty decent, actually. He has a voice that’s both reassuring and full of life. The calm authority of his vocals suggests that all he sings (and probably says) should be taken as incontrovertible fact. Backing comes from Rita Van Dyke on piano and Zhou Da Yun on cello and never comes close to intruding on the simple, intelligent lyrics.
However, over seven songs the unobtrusive backing music becomes less of a virtue. As much as it’s good for lyrics to be elevated, there are times when some added production could let the music soar that bit more. In recent years Agnes Obel has shown just how much the cello and piano in particular can compliment well delivered lyrics.
Currach Adhmaid and the title track come closest to achieving that balance while Farmer and Friesian hints at the areas Carroll’s music could go if he stays in Asia; with a tantalizingly short coda of (presumably) local vocals.
So ‘Let Every Tongue’ is an album that probably won’t lift John Carroll clear of the singer-songwriter toy box, but one that suggests he’ll be worth taking out to play more in the future.