London Folk Magazine and News
Rob Johnston ‘Message to the Moon’ Album Review
Rob Johnston is a guitarist who aims to blend both classical, world and folk influences together into one cohesive sound, in an effort to bring his listeners something utterly new. His lovely latest album, Message to the Moon, is chock full of instrumental songs played in a variety of styles.
Aside from ‘A Honeyed Lip’ and ‘Blackwaterside’, the tracks on the album are arranged and composed by Johntson, who, having played live on BBC Radio stations and at multiple folk festivals up and down the country, is no stranger to the folk music scene. Indeed, in the words of Phil Jackson of South Live BBC, Johnston is “a mighty, mighty fine player”, and Message to the Moon provides more evidence to support this.
Most of the tracks on Message to the Moon are instrumental, and, rather than limiting himself to one style of playing, Johnston incorporates different techniques, tunings and looping technologies to add variety and depth to his music.
It clearly takes a lot of skill to play these songs, and no doubt even more to compose and arrange them. The intricacy, delicacy and tempo of numbers like the title track make for what is at once mellow, thoughtful and upbeat listening. This contrasts very nicely with the two slightly more melancholy songs that feature Johnston’s voice.
His cover of Bert Jansch’s ‘Blackwaterside’ is a particularly welcome addition to the record. Not only is it one of the best songs on the album, but it’s enough to make you wish that Johnston would have picked up the mic a little more often. He makes this classic track entirely his own, and his tender rendition manages to add even more emotional depth than the original.
‘Little Voice’ is another highlight. Here, Johnston showcases his a talent for devising both melody and lyric; combining them to produce a piece that’s bittersweet for reasons that you can’t quite put your finger on.
Through Johnston’s tranquil yet largely cheery songs, Message to the Moon’s instrumental melodies become the perfect soundtrack to your daydream. Meanwhile the sung tracks punctuate the album with a change of tone to keep you on your toes.
On the whole, Ron Johnstone has shown himself here to be a first rate musician. This record is a gentle, enjoyable example of first rate technical skill, and it will be exciting to see what he follows it with.
By Aidan Milan