Lanterns is the first album from Dublin born and Liverpool based guitarist John McGrath. His website informs us that he is a published music academic and PhD student so clearly not your average guitar strummer!
The album kicks off with title track ‘Lanterns’. Clearly a student of the Michael Hedges/Andy McKee school of percussive guitar, McGrath treats us to a number of interlinked riffs which mark him clearly as a technically adept guitarist. The delay effect used occasionally within the piece adds an unusual texture to the piece. Moving on to ‘Four Hills’, McGrath takes a more bluesy direction reminiscent of Preston Reed and again uses the delay effect to build dynamic interest over a repeated tapping figure. ‘Breath’ again uses repeated finger picked figure twinned with a hammered riff, and finishing with a repeated percussive riff, again the effects modulating over a repeated figure. The final track is the curiously titled Ghosty’s Spinach Song. McGrath, abandons the right tapping techniques for the first part of this track producing what was for me the most interesting melody of the collection evoking a the atmosphere of a Scottish pipe tune. Half way through however he returns to the percussive techniques and the strength of the melody feels lost as he repeats a percussive figure which in my view fails to match the strength of the melody he started out with.
Overall I must confess that whilst it is in many ways impressive, I found it difficult to get involved with much of ‘Lanterns’. McGrath’s use of percussive techniques proves he is a very capable guitarist and willing student of the Hedges school but they are often employed in place of a strong melodic idea, relying instead on dazzling the listener with what are no doubt visually impressive techniques. The delay effects are an interesting addition to the form adding an element of glitch electronica, which whilst occasionally making for a curious combination it is certainly an unusual twist on the finger-style genre. Perhaps melodies are not really the point of this collection but I would like to hear him bring his technique to and mastery of effects to bear on stronger melodic ideas and rely a little less on the electronic modulation for the variation. He comes in to his own on the final track where he delivers a genuinely moving melody but it seems to me a little like he is determined use the percussive technique whether or not the it suits the music he is communicating. As a debut EP “Lanterns is a strong indication of McGrath is capable of and it will be interesting to see how he develops and hones his sound on future releases.
Lanterns is available to download from Bandcamp on a ‘name your price’ basis.
David is an acoustic finger-style guitarist, singer-songwriter and teacher based in North Wales.
He has performed up and down the country both solo and with his previous band The Invisible
Wires as well as various collaborations including a stint with Duffy.