Album Review: History Springs from John Smith’s Picking and Singing on ‘Hummingbird’

Smith comes home to the progressive folk guitar that inspired him
John Smith with guitar

From the July/August 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY PAT MORAN



With Hummingbird, John Smith comes home to the progressive folk guitar that inspired him. Drawing primarily from the British canon, Smith collects English folk, traditional tunes dating back to the 15th century, and three originals that could pass for vintage music from the scepter’d isle.

John Smith, Hummingbird album cover

Using a battery of guitars, including a Martin D-28, a Gibson LG-2, a pair of Fylde Falstaffs, and a Fylde Alexander, Smith dons several guises for these often rambunctious story-songs: everyman, poet, and soldier girding for battle.


His grainy tenor bubbles like a clear stream over a gravel bed, while ringing accents pick a thorny path between percussive swipes on “The Lowlands of Holland.” “Boudica,” an original paean to the Iceni (early Brittonic) warrior queen who defied Rome, swoops like a cavalry charge on rattling picking and flanged strums. The ill-fated voyage of discovery recounted on “Lord Franklin” is borne on rebounding currents of double-tracked guitar, wiry one minute and brittle the next. A free-falling coil of rasgueadostyle strumming unfurls another original, “Axe Mountain (Revisited),” a blood-spattered murder ballad that feels grounded in a landscape of windswept moors and gleeful in its depiction of carnage.

By embracing the blood, death, and thunder of traditional folk, Hummingbird evokes the very Englishness that imbued acts like Pentangle and others. It’s a rolling musical landscape punctuated with rising cross-picked crags and peaks of detuned dissonance. It’s a familiar yet challenging weave of the supple and the jarring. 

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Pat Moran
Pat Moran

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