John Blek, surely one of the most unsung heroes of the Irish music scene, dripping in talent, constantly presenting pearls and gems for our ears, with his understated charm coming across as an all-round decent spud, possibly unaware of just how gifted a songwriter he is.
It’s in his soul of course – he has to keep creating and composing. In fact, he is one of the most prolific singer-songwriters around, and this new album – his eighth – is probably the best yet. Calling to mind Nick Drake, the production on this new album ‘Until the Rivers Run Dry’ takes it to another level.
Always poetic, always melodic, always entertaining, in this 2023 release we see Blek step-up collaboration with some of Ireland’s other prolific and gifted songwriters and musicians. For example, Cathy Davey lends her vocals throughout. The strings by Colm Mac Con Iomaire (The Frames) also need special mention, as well as Kit Downes on piano, Davey Ryan on drums and Chris McCarthy playing double bass.
This is a stunningly beautiful album. Opening with ‘St John’s Eve’ – a celebration of the solstice coinciding festival celebrating St John the Baptist, when fires would be lit across hills and mountains, this song calls to mind that ancient tradition – the joy of staying out all night long in mid-summer. Romantic and reflective, the trademark, tongue in cheek Blek banter is never far from the surface:
I talked the ear off you
Listening to ‘Until The Rivers Run Dry’ makes it clear that the ever prolific John Blek is an artist uneasy with rest who is eternally developing his impressive style with his fierce independent spirit at the heart of everything he does.
The equally memorable and beautiful title track ‘Til the Rivers Run Dry’ – a nod perhaps to the famous Robbie Burns poem, ‘A Red, Red Rose’ with the oft-quoted line “Till a’ the seas gang dry. Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear” – it’s ironic how Blek and Burns share many a similarity – not just in looks, and mischievous lyrics, but in the ability to invoke powerful emotions via seemingly simple verse – at least on the surface.
The 10 track album was recorded over 10 days in early 2022. Though the process was quick it was not rushed. Blek entered the studio with an inspired clarity and a vivid picture of what he wanted to create. This is by far his most substantial and sophisticated sounding record to date, building on the brilliance of ‘On Ether and Air’ from a few years ago.
The soaring strings quite capably evoke a Spektor-esque sound, chamber pop backing vocals full of indie spirit paired with a blend of electronic and acoustic drums lead us into a new sonic realm but the heart of the record is Blek’s profound and poetic alt-folk song writing. This is how it’s described online and we’d have to agree full-heartedly.
In an age when it would be easy to become disillusioned with the music industry John has remained steadfastly positive and unyieldingly creative. Known for being one of Ireland’s hardest touring musicians the Cork based musician tours relentlessly in Europe and the UK as well as his native Ireland. His live show is always a joy to behold usually in small intimate settings, he is thoughtful and entertaining, littered with stories, showcasing his arresting vocals and intricate guitar playing – and often self-deprecating, without fully realising perhaps just how entertaining and funny his storytelling can be.