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Dingwalls, London 7 October 2007

There's nothing more humbling than seeing a million selling song writer struggling with his guitar tuner on stage in front of 300 or so expectant people. But by playing the role of the consummate pro John David Souther, aka JD, made light of his troubles firstly by remaining silent, and thereafter coming up with a couple of cryptic stories regarding service tools.

Playing in front of an enthusiastic crowd of alt. country and Americana fans he didn't in truth have to break sweat to pull the audience over to his side. Besides, he isn't the kind of guy taken to making a grand gesture, let alone shifting far from his solitary mic stand, unless it was to change a guitar.

Just like his music, JD is a slow burner in as much as he builds up the kind of momentum in his set that almost imperceptibly shifts from slow to laid back. And with the only concession to his crowd being some well chosen and artfully delivered anecdotes, it is testament to both his lyrics and rich back catalogue of songs (raided by the likes of The Eages, Linda Ronstadt and Brian Wilson), that he managed to successfully engage his audience.

At one point an over exuberant fan shouted out 'The Old Grey Whistle Test', as if his memory bank had just kicked in. JD initially offered a humorous professional repost before relenting and answering the guy concerned, before quietly slipping back to his set list.

In fact there was a curious detachment to his performance throughout, right from his formal three piece dark suite, to the way he initially slipped from one song to another without pausing for introductions. Indeed it was only when he finally launched into a long preamble about a beautiful song he wrote as a result of being in Cuba, and a second humorous story regarding how his magical ballad 'Faithless Love' hadn't actually won a Grammy in spite of its huge sales, that we caught any notion of the performer connecting with his audience.

But cast a brief look at JD's biog and you quickly realise he is happiest doing what he does best and that is song writing. Unfortunately that meant sitting through a handful well crafted ballads that were all too often delivered in the same laid introspective vein.

But there were some outright gems like the plaintive ballad 'Silver Blue' which was simply magnificent in a strained Neil Young type of way, and the following Jackson Browne-sounding 'All I Want To Do' which was a show stopper delivered about half way through the set.

The Eagles fans were placated with a stripped down versions of 'New Kid in Town' and 'Best of My Love' as well as the rehashed version of the recently re recorded 1972 song 'How Long', the new Eagles single.

And for the rest, there was the curious extended interlude when JD told us at length about his new album, and each individual band member and their pedigree. It was the moment at which you almost dared to shout out, 'yes but none of them are here'.

As it was, we made the most of our time with this fine southern Californian song-smith, as his voice gradually found its range, and he gradually overcame a few dodgy moments on his acoustic guitar. Finally JD relaxed enough to link a few extended stories to his impressive songs giving audience the confidence and opportunity to respond warmly.

Review by Pete Feenstra

Album review

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