John Smith, The Fray

“The guitarists’ guitarist” – The Sunday Times

Facing personal tragedy and a sudden halt to his professional life during 2020, songwriter and guitarist, John Smith found a rich vein of creativity, resulting in this fine album, The Fray.

“With newfound pain coming from so many directions, dealing with the uncertainty it brings, I closed the curtains and picked up the pen, turning to song-writing as a lifeline.” 

It’s Smith’s 6th album, which he hails as his most honest: A lot of these songs are “about accepting that life is hard, but just holding on and trying to enjoy it anyway,” he says with stubborn honesty.

With contributions from Sarah Jarosz, Courtney Hartman, The Milk Carton Kids, Bill Frisell and frequent touring partner Lisa Hannigan, the album is a classy mixture of British folk and Americana, underpinned by Smith’s sensitively-delivered vocals and his deft guitar work.

John Smith is an English singer-songwriter, who has been plying his trade for the last 15 years, playing around 200 gigs a year. He has over 40 million streams on Spotify and has played guitar with artists like Joan Baez, Joe Henry, and Tom Jones. 

Co-produced by Smith and Sam Lakeman, and featuring pianist Jason Rebello, bass player Ben Nicholls, drummer Jay Sikora, and Jessica Staveley-Taylor, The Fray is a sophisticated  set of songs, which are intelligent and emotionally sensitive, but melodic and enjoyable, and never disappear into melancholy.

The album kicks of with a nice, upbeat tribute to “friends” who are always there for you, which leads nicely into the positivity of Hold On, where, although times are hard, “I can’t believe they are here to stay.”

The musicianship and song arrangements are strong throughout. Bill Frisell’s ethereal guitar work in The Best of Me is delightful; Sarah Jarosz’s harmonizing and vocal contribution on Eye to Eye, combined with Smith’s subtle guitar work, add the finishing touches to a finely-crafted song; and the Milk Carton Kids’ vocals on the title track enhance a hugely positive note towards the end of the album.

Smith is “still looking for the kindness of strangers, It’ll make you rich, won’t cost a thing.” Well said. In the darkest of times, he’s “holding on to hope.”

The album is a testimony to Smith’s eloquent lyric writing and his ability to write songs that are not trivial musically, and yet are melodic and enjoyable. That’s a huge skill. Combine that with the dollops of positivity in the album, and you’ve got a set of songs you’ll be playing again and again.

Track listing

1) Friends
2) Hold On
3) Sanctuary
4) Deserving
5) The Best of Me (feat. Bill Frisell)
6) Star-Crossed Lovers (feat. Lisa Hannigan)
7) To The Shore
8) Eye To Eye (feat. Sarah Jarosz)
9) Just As You Are
10) The Fray (feat. The Milk Carton Kids)
11) She’s Doing Fine
12) One Day at a Time