John King may not be a familiar name, but he should be. Emerging from the urbanity-meets-rural midwest of Ohio, he crafts melodies woven with sunny folk and indie flavors. His rustic and reminiscent debut LP The Warmer Winds showcases laid-back Sunday songs and mildly operatic pop tunes. His music is often acoustic-driven and easy to relax to, but it’s his talent for great songs that will propel him to much greater heights than a local following.
From the beginning, King draws hazy comparisons to Neil Young and Andrew Bird with a wistful ear and artistic hand. “Just Beyond the Gate” commences the album with harmonica and a lightly strummed guitar, giving a good preface to the next eleven tracks. The lyrics are pastoral and sound like the countryside as seen through old beer bottles and washboards. They are often grounded in King’s spirit-folk style. “Lost at Sea” is a perfect example with its anxious theme and chilled piano notes. His voice and the music compliment each other well, often working in layers.
Simplicity works its magic on many of the tracks. “The Woods,” a standout median tune about unchanging nature, floats through the listener’s ears like a lone cirrus. The guitar line after the chorus is one of the most absurdly smooth lines I’ve ever heard, transcending the guitar and becoming lighter than air. In the same way, the title track is a desert soundscape complete with throaty, often orbicular trumpet and Spanish conversations in the background. This is music for relaxing and thinking, ideal for a summer day on a hillside.
King favors a vagabond approach, often focusing on nature and relationships. “Badlands” is a musical Polaroid and a journal entry all at once, copping the Young feel. Native American imagery makes a cameo, giving off a Western vibe. It is genre-less in a sense, which is part of what makes it so earthen and raw. “Phono Mind” channels the best of Brian Wilson, decomposing from period vocal effects and catchy melody into an acoustic yawp. Its full-bodied structure is more rounded out than other songs, but all of them perform on their own level. Whether by himself or with a backing band, King delivers.
One of the best things about The Warmer Winds is that it’s not restricted by time or age. The veteran of the jam band scene and the present-day indie listener will both find things to love about it. In many ways, this record is a revival of the vinyl and cassette days, and it’s right on time.