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Ivas John: Good Days a Comin
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/13/2016)
I have noted on various occasions on this album review series, the trend in some circles of younger artists toward retro styles: people making music that was originally popular well before they were born. Most of it is from styles from the 1960s and 1970s, like Memphis R&B, Motown Soul, the psychedelic scene and the melodic pop of the Beatles and the British Invasion. There are a few who go back even further for their source of inspiration, such as Pokey LaFarge, evoking the swing era. This week we have another excellent album by a faily young musician doing music in styles from well before the rock era, In this it’s case acoustic blues that is a mixture of Delta country blues and Piedmont styles. And rather than making it a study in serious authenticity, the recording takes a lighthearted direction throughout. It’s by Ivas John, and it’s titled Good Days a Comin.
Ivas John -- and that’s his actual first name -- was born and grew up in Chicago to Lithuanian immigrants, according to his publicity biography. His rather, Edward John was prominent on the Chicago folk and blues scene, and Ivas credits him with being his biggest inspiration. Ivas went to college at the University of Southern Illinois, and while there, became involved with that area’s music scene. Inspired by this father, Ivas John tended toward the blues and often worked as a guitarist sideman, and at first was into doing the electric blues. Prior to the new recording, he had released at least two previous albums. Over constant touring, he was increasingly drawn toward the more acoustic, older style blues. In 2015, he met and began working with producer Gary Gordon who guided him toward the sound, enlisting more acoustic musicians, some from Nashville, including a veteran of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass band, Robert Bollin. Ivas John also turned to one of his main influences, his father, and though the elder John does not appear on the album, most of the original material was co-written by father and son. And those songs are one of the album’s main strength. Most of the original songs sound rather authentically is if they could be from the 1930s or so.
Ivas John has an easy-going folky, bluesy sound, which, as mentioned, contains hints of the Mississippi country blues style and the Appalachian and Piedmont blues style of artists like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. And like some of the old blues, there is sometimes a light-hearted undercurrent, and even when the lyrics are sad, the music has a feel-good quality. Ivas John has a vocal style which is perfect for this kind of music. The all-acoustic instrumental accompaniment is very tasteful, and generally pretty spare. A lot of it has a kind of back-porch quality. John himself plays some very nice guitar solos, occasionally reminiscent of the style of Doc Watson.
Leading off is an original tune called Goin’ Back to Arkansas, which very much sounds like a traditional piece. But it’s an Ivas John original and a good example of the album’s combination of authenticity and appeal. <<>>
A little bluesier is Here I Am co-written by Ivas John and his father Edward John. The mandolin and the Dobro also gives the track a dollop of bluegrass influence. It’s a kind of a good-natured love-lost song. <<>>
Ivas John recently moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on the Mississippi River, and the great waterway became the inspiration for the original song Roll Mississippi, another of its highlights. <<>>
Of the twelve tracks on the album, four are covers. The most venerable of them is the Merle Travis classic Dark as a Dungeon, about coal mining. John and colleagues give it more of a bluegrass-influenced treatment, and the result is first-rate. <<>>
From the 1960s folk era comes the Tom Paxton song, Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound. John also does the song justice, giving it an appropriately folky treatment. <<>>
The saddest song on the album is a composition by Ivas John and his father Edward. Things Ain’t Been the Same a kind of classic story of love lost. It’s done in a more intimate setting with just guitar, Dobro and bass. <<>>
Another highlight of the album, spotlighting Ivas John’s lighthearted approach to the blues is an original called Payday Boogie. John does some nice guitar work on the track. <<>>
The album ends with a solo guitar instrumental called Sunday Morning Blues, an intimate-sounding piece that highlights John’s tasteful picking. <<>>
Ivas John’s new album Good Days a Comin is an excellent example of a relatively young performer reaching back to well before the rock era for his source of inspiration, and doing a great job at it. Hardly a strict revivalist, John mixes Mississippi country style blues with the Appalachian and Piedmont styles, and performs original music that sounds quite authentic to the era. The all-acoustic playing is very tasteful with everyone getting it just right. And John’s slightly gruff vocals are both appropriate and appealing. He reminds me some the Texas songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey, who had a similar approach.
Our grade for sound quality is an “A.” The acoustic instruments are well-recorded with a warm, intimate sound, just right for the style. My only quibble is that the acoustic bass can sound a little thin at times. But the dynamic range, how the album handles the difference between the loud and the soft, while not exactly at audiophile level, is better than most albums being released these days.
On his new album, Ivas John has emerged as an impressive country blues revivalist, creating, often with his father, some great original songs in the classic style, and serving them up in an appealing, tasteful setting.
(c) Copyright 2016 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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