Sweet Johnny

Here at RR towers the latest LP by Burgess Hill’s finest has fallen into our hands for review. Sweet Jonny’s self-titled LP is 12 songs about “small town life” and its accompanying characters – and what an interesting life it would appear to be! Opener “Devil What He’s Due” is no exception and a great start-point. From the opening thumping snare that gives way to simple chords, the confident layered vocals set the scene. The early noodly bridge and twisted guitar section are no hiding place for the lyrical storytelling. It’s a tale of everyday life and settling scores. Vocally I’m reminded of early Jam-era Weller – there’s a menace in the vocal that is subtly observed in the lyrics. “Sick in the Summer” follows with a chunky guitar intro and that familiar vocal style. Sick in the summer is kind of self-explanatory, that feeling one gets when ill in the Summer. Strained chords in the bridge accompany the subtle drums. It’s a short song at less than three minutes long and reminds me of Gallon Drunk among others. It has that Dirty RnR swagger that many a band of this genre employ.

“Crack of the Whip” has a pure Rockabilly/RnR entrance, slightly American sounding to my ears. Searing guitars and wholesome hitting. Once again lyrically bold and pulls no punches. As the image in your head about the song’s subject matter becomes clearer the song just gets darker. From the opening line ‘he said, would you like a lift in my car?… one immediately draws conclusions. “Wither” is faster paced but lyrically I’m left dumbfounded – a personal account or pure fiction? You decide? As a song tho’ it’s terrific. It just grows and grows more powerful – from the speedy bridge right through to its conclusion.

On “American Psycho” I feel the band have been influenced by our cousins from across the pond. Fast, furious, layered and totally out there. Pounding drums and layered guitars throughout with added squeals and squalls, it’s dark in its entirety but not unpleasant. “Mr. Know It All” I’m guessing is written with someone in mind. A ex-colleague maybe? Self – deprecating lyrics and a knowing feel throughout. More guitar straining and the vocal slant is unlike anything I’ve heard before from a British band. It’s unique as if he’s acting out the lyrics in conversation. I get hints of Billy Bragg in places but again it is entirely my personal view.

“Animals” is an eloquent account of our obsession with fame and vanity. There’s an anger in the vocal, born of sheer frustration. The slow/fast formula works well here. The vocals become more intense in the verses before exploding in the chorus with unbridled anger. ‘Suckerpunch’ has a ‘punchy’ opening and more noodling. The bridge is more of a mid-song jam, yet not unpleasant. Again though I’m stumped as to the songs lyrical content.

Sweet Johnny

‘Mother Knows Best’ smacks you in the face with a concoction of Jon Spencer Blues in a blender with Jonathan Fire Eater! All swaggering, edgy, and Dirty RnR at its roughest. A short, sharp shock of a song with a snarling mid-section. More chunky guitars, backed up by heavy bass and powerful hitting. “Pathos” opens with a clicky beat and subtle bass. More Yank-inspired guitar lines compliment the layered vocals. Latterly the song explodes into blind fury and aggression as the chorus just gets louder and louder.

“It Matters Not” is much slower, despite the thumping drums. Self-loathing and agonising amid the self-deprecating nature of the song mask a lack of appreciation. Twangy guitars toward the end match the pained vocals right up until the curt ending. However, to this reviewer, it is the highlight of this collection. “Kill Your Poets” is the perfect LP closer. More tortured vocals; harsh, heavy and heartfelt and delivered with disdain. The ending, however, is superb and leaves one begging for more of the same as it gently evaporates away.

If this LP is a reflection of life in a small town then observations of that life must be very interesting indeed. Set to a backdrop of Rockabilly/Punk/Dirty RnR and a smattering of other influences, Sweet Jonny perfectly capture the mood of their surroundings. No half measures here people and having seen the band live only once I canít wait to hear these songs again. In Tom Backshall they have a singer with a unique talent and vocal style that even I canít find a point of reference. Ably backed by Jonny Pinder (Drums) and Tom Jenn (Bass) they have produced twelve sterling tracks that demand your attention. I don’t know what’s in the water in Burgess Hill, but it’s bubbling!

Band members
Tom Backshall, Vocals/ Guitar
Jonny Pinder, Drums
Tom Jenn, Bass

Track listing:
Devil What He’s Due
Sick in the Summer
Crack of the Whip
American Psycho
Mr. Know It All
Mother Knows Best
It Matters Not
Kill Your Poets




Review by Ross A. Ferrone.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to MySpace