Originally from the UK but now hailing from the modern day Bohemia that is Prague, Justin Lavash is a name that may not be known to many people reading this, but he is an undiscovered gem that was brought to my attention when I saw him perform live with Dan Reed last month in his hometown. Having contributed the stunning ‘Avalanche’ to Dan‘s latest album I was surprised to hear it was a track he had initially thrown away as an off-cut and not used it himself. If this is the quality of the stuff he ditches, what does he sound like on record?
Having investigated further it seems he is every bit as eclectic, thoughtful and passionate in his songwriting as that one track from the “Signal Fire” album would suggest.
“25 Years” is a journey through folk, blues, jazz and even a smattering of soul and it is every bit as irresistible as I’d hoped. Opener Give Up, Give Over displays some incredibly innovative and intricate guitar picking with a smooth whiskey-soaked vocal that lulls you right in and the urgent steam train rhythm of Johnny Cashing In combines catchy hooks with smart lyrics – and herein lies the key. The words on this album resonate, like poetry with a musical soundtrack, and transport the listener in so many different directions with each track. The soft chill of ‘Liverpool Rain’ conjures up so many vivid images and the funky stomp of the title track is a wistful tale of hardship and music industry homogenisation with yet more inventive fret work.
‘Song N’ Dance Man’ shimmers with scat-man cool and shows how adept Justin is at switching moods from one song to the next without ever sounding contrived. Other highlights include the beautiful melancholy of ‘Hammerblow’, the assured swagger of ‘Daylight Kicking In’ and the gentle majesty of ‘All Of Us Or None Of Us’.
This is what folk music used to be and should be – from the heart, from the gut and with no conscious effort to fit a particular style or template. Lavash communicates so well with words but can say just as much with three chords on a guitar. A truly masterful songwriter and a hugely gifted player (the mid section solo work on ‘This Is A Song’ is quite breathtaking), I’m just sad I didn’t discover him sooner.
Making a very rare trip to the UK for a one-off gig at the fabulous Railway Venue in Bolton on Saturday 16th March – an evening in the company of Justin Lavash is one not to be missed.