Ferraby Lionheart‘s presence in the LA scene has always been appreciated, if only for the vintage blend of folk and pop he is able to present to revivalists. His performances are always marked by a grandeur that is both fun and whimsical, coming across simply as an appreciative participant of music’s constructive power. The accessible approach to this type of folk is echoed by artists like John Vanderslice that treat fans with no hierarchical superiority. Lionheart has always been demonstrative of a breed that play it a bit too straight and friendly for major recognition, his modest demeanor complementing a breed of folk-pop that is more nostalgic than groundbreaking. The lack of headlines created by a situation like this should be evident. And unlike Vanderslice, Lionheart’s own songwriting had not yet reached a point of ambition where he ascends above his peers. When considering these aspects it is easy to see why Lionheart has been so overlooked. As with most artists though, a solid collection of songs in one place could propel his image in a heartbeat.
The Jack of Hearts, Lionheart’s follow-up to 2007’s debut full-length Catch the Brass Ring, is the collection of songs that his fans have been waiting for. His 2007 debut was one of surefire potential, emitting “folky Baroque pop” that showed Lionheart’s studied appreciation for artists like Harry Nilsson, Simon & Garfunkel, and Elliott Smith. You know, the type of artists that could make a grown man weep with their voice and an acoustic guitar. Lionheart’s material is frequently less somber than those aforementioned influences, but beneath his uplifting melodies and joyous harmonies often lies a more artistically reflective side. Of course, he is not your typical folk artist either. His instrumentation often resembles jangle-pop more than it does folk music, like on “Pocketknife” where handclap-percussion, guitar slides, and twinkling keys would resemble twee-pop if it were not for Lionheart’s nasally voice. “You made a bareskin bed, I keep our bellies fed,” he sings, relating the difference and similarities between using all possible resources to fend for oneself and supporting a family. A thematically simple song, to be sure, but the message is resounding and the harmonies infectious enough to keep listeners coming back for more.
Songs like “Pocketknife” present Lionheart’s folky twang and lyrical sincerity with the utmost accessibility, which is also found on songs like “My Name” and “Arkansas” that slow down the approach and unfold with more precision, albeit with less forthright infectiousness. The ethereal “Arkansas” shows that Lionheart can create a worthy ballad, with the supporting instrumentation and ’60s-like harmonies to boot. His voice is exceptionally rich on all tracks and this one in particular, almost bearing a likeness to Dr. Dog in songs that are able to retain a radio-friendly ideology while sticking to traditional folk instrumentation and hooks grounded in simple things, like a man-made whistle or a sudden burst of energy, like in the jubilant chorus found on “Harry and Bess”. Moments like these are more reminiscent of jangle-pop than folk, but his lyrical clarity and constant twang makes folk music a ceaseless presence here. The Jack of Hearts is a damn impressive album that should finally bring Lionheart some acclaim outside of California, even if his breezy vein of poppy folk appears to fit best on the shores of the west coast. Because Lionheart’s aptitude for a melodic hook is universal, it is somewhat irrelevant that most of his influences are rooted in the midwest.
RIYL: Elliott Smith, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter and the Wolf, Ola Podrida, Jaymay, Fionn Regan, Sam Amidon, Harry Nilsson, Josh James, Phosphorescent, J. Tillman, M. Ward, Adem, Bon Iver, Denison Witmer, Rocky Votolato, Deer Tick, Johnathan Rice, Damien Jurado, Patrick Park, Griffin House