Children's Songs New Folk Records; 2010
Duluth News Tribune
"..."Children's Songs" is their newest release and is an ear-bending ride that clearly took a considerable period to work out, to arrange, to woodshed and to record. But one concentrated listen tells you that all the effort was worth the time invested.
"Wasn't That a Time" is an old Weaver's (Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, etc.) tune that is given an Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull feel. Its text pays tribute to those brave souls who fought and fell at Valley Forge and Gettysburg. Steve Lehto's fiery guitar solo has the feeling of a serpent uncoiling itself before it pounces.
"The Broomfield Hill" is a traditional tune that uses Martin Carthy's version as a model yet has a Pat Metheny vibe to the intro. The vocal verses are pungently driven by drummer Jacobs, who paradoxically combines intensity and a light touch that adds immensely to the cohesiveness of the harmonic instruments. The solo section has the progressive rock sensation of Steve Howe's most adventurous material.
The title track is a mélange of traditional tunes that throws into the same stew pot everything from kalimba (thumb piano) to squeeze box to Jaco Pastorius-like bass work. Its disparate tunes include Manuel Ponce's "Prelude No. 5," "Blackberry Blossom," Chick Corea's "Children's Songs," John Coltrane's "After the Rain," and even Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song." It's a 32-minute monstrous piece that needs to be heard to be appreciated. Make no mistake, while it's something that some children might enjoy, it's very grown-up fare.
"Betsy Bell and Mary Gray" uses traditional lyrics put to a new arrangement that adds Pentangle-esque guitars (Bert Jansch and John Renborn) then builds into a Mahavishnu Orchestra/Weather Report kind of auditory extravaganza that brings the past into the future.
Accompanying "Children's Songs" is a DVD, "Live in the Studio," that captures some of the moments in the making of the recording.
In these "American Idol" times when so many people yearn to be stars -- and do it with no work and no effort -- and when pop music's most important ideology is commercialism, it's a joy to hear musicians who've worked hard and put forth tremendous effort and come up with something that is actually profound."
The Philadelphia Examiner On Line, Article link
European folk is arguably the oldest style around today. Bands of the 1960s and 70s like Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention modernized the art, but they’re material was influenced by lore and poetry dating back centuries in the annals of UK history. Although you might expect such a band to have many members, in the case of Lehto & Wright, the band is simply a trio. Even so, they’ve crafted some fantastic pieces with their newest LP, Children’s Songs.
The Minneapolis, MN based duo of Steven Lehto and John Wright have a wide array of influences, ranging anywhere from the aforementioned progressive folk pioneers to King Crimson, Miles Davis, and Richard Thompson. Collectively, their backgrounds include jazz, blues, fusion, pop, Latin and rock. Joining them is Matt Jacobs on drums and percussion, and his background is similar. The trio has only put four songs on Children’s Songs, but its hour long runtime is quite enjoyable.
The album opens with its shortest track, “Wasn’t That A Time,” and it’s deceptively basic. First time listeners will hear a straightforward rocker with an emphasis on melody, harmony and acoustic guitars, but close listening reveals some complicated rhythmic shifts in the vocals. It’s easily the simplest track on Children’s Songs though, and a good one to start with.
“The Broomfield Hill” begins with some sorrowful chords and jazzy bass. Wright unfolds a tale with rapid pace, which shows that Lehto & Wright are just as focused on epic storytelling as their folk rock brethren. Soon the progressive rock influence takes effect as the sound becomes heavier and more complex overall, incorporating electric guitar solos over key changes and hyper bass. It’s very captivating.
As a preface to the actual discussion of the song, it’s worth mentioning that the title track is over a half an hour long, and although it’s basically just an instrumental guitar composition, it’s intriguing throughout. The piece consists of nearly twenty sections which include references and samples of Chick Corea (hence the title), Bèla Brook, John Coltrane, Robert Schumann, and Led Zeppelin. The full credits are listed section by section in the CD booklet. Needless to say, it carries a lot of momentum.
“Children’s Songs” begins with a silly portion of Charlie Wills singing his sea shanty “The Rigs of London Town.” Lehto & Wright then introduce varying sections of guitar work, including it electric guitar harmonies, acoustic arpeggios and some fancy stuff that would fit well at a small town “ho down.” After some footsteps walk off, some more acoustic guitar melodies are played. Soon the drums and bass receive more attention as the guitar paints over them, and eventually they rock out a bit, changing time signatures frequently and including unconventional instruments for accompaniment. This middle section is quite energetic and technical, and it’d be stunning to see it played live. The closing third portion is mellower and strict (it even has a marching drum) at first, but it reprises the fusion aesthetic before it closes solemnly with an excerpt from Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song.” The track is astonishing; it’s a wonder how they even put together such a piece structurally (let alone play it). However, it’s also easy to see how listeners who aren’t too keen on guitars might get bored.
The album concludes with “Betsy Bell and Mary Gray,” which begins with acappella and overdubbed harmony about the two characters. The chords and arpeggios of the next segment effectively set the stage for a tale of Old English despair, which Lehto & Wright deliver once they start singing around five minuets in. The music is very affective and lush (though not orchestrated), and their vocals sound beautiful together. A few minutes later, the music builds beyond mere acoustic string instruments as drums, bass and odd effects are utilized. Halfway through, the band is at full force with more enchanting rhythms and progressive coating, all the while staying firmly planted in their folk world. The duo infuses dozens of chord progressions, arpeggios and riffs into their pieces, and it’s mesmerizing. Things take a very dark turn during the last few minutes with an angry guitar solo and a tribal drum beat. Finally, they reprise the poem they sang at the beginning. Overall it’s probably the most focused track on the album.
As a bonus, Children’s Songs comes with a DVD that includes an interview and a live set (each about twenty five minutes long). The interview, as expected, provides a lot of insight into their influences and writing process, acknowledging how they incorporated other artists’ pieces into their own. In between bits of conversation are bits of performances, which helps maintain the appeal. It’s shot at one of their houses as a roundtable discussion, so it feels intimate and friendly. As for the live set, it’s shot in the living room of the same house, and each song is separated by a brief introduction. Of course it doesn’t sound as lush as the record but it’s still pretty impressive to watch the guys play. They remain focused throughout and never let the camera distract them.
Lehto & Wright’s Children’s Songs is an incredible record. The duo are masters of their stringed instruments and they combine countless guitar chords and riffs with fantastic percussion to create masterpieces. That said, it is a shame that there are barely any vocals on here. Their voices fit the songs well and the few melodies they sing are absorbing. Plus, it would’ve broken up the monotony of the relentless instrumental music a bit (as enjoyable as it is, it can also get exhausting after awhile). Nevertheless, Children’s Songs is a very fine work indeed.— Jordan Blum
Between the Jigs and the Reels, New Folk Records; 2008
Minnesota guitar masters Steve Lehto and John Wright are equally skilled in intricate, delicate, acoustic picking and loud, crunchy folk-rock, and on this all-instrumental collection based on mostly traditional Irish and English tunes (and a couple of Southern American and classical ones, as well), they gather seven previously released tracks and five new ones into a splendid showcase of contemporary Angle-Celtic guitar styles. In electric mode, the duo's big, skirling sound is sometimes reminiscent of the early work of Richard Thompson, as in the potent "Silver Tip" reel set or the slow resonant Martin Carthy composition, "McVeagh," while their acoustic interplays are complex and elegant, as in the lengthy jig set led off by a cheerful tune with the unlikely title, "I Buried My Wife and Danced on Her Grave." Definitely recommended for fans of both acoustic and electric guitar music with British Isles roots.— T.N.
The Thrashing Machine and Other Stories, New Folk Records; 2004
Folk World CD Reviews
This is the fourth album together by this Minneapolis-based duo. They have built a growing reputation for their music in their own State, but their fame has not spread to much wider parts of their United States of America, and certainly not across the sea to Britain, from where I write this review. Were I to ask anyone in my local folk club who these artistes were, their names would draw a blank. But as they specialize in traditional and contemporary music from the British Isles, as well as similar music from their own country, what are their chances of making a breakthrough here? Well, to answer that, I had best say that the jury is out. Let me explain. Steve Lehto and John Wright are clearly both talented guitarists and vocalists. And aided here by Matt Jacobs on drums, they clearly know how to produce a professional-sounding album. But that, in itself, I submit, is not quite enough. But let me look at the plusses first. For all their vocal skills, an instrumental track proved the standout track for me. I refer to track 4: Comiciamento di gioia. This piece from medieval Italy was beautifully arranged for the two guitars, and led to me opening a bottle of Barolo, so Italian did it make the atmosphere feel. And they don't just play acoustic guitars well: Steve's electric guitar work was a joy throughout.
So far so good. But my problem with them comes in their interpretations of folk classics. Now note that sentence, please. Interpretations is their word, not mine. But it is a word that I really BLESS them for. At least they do not say covers. Frankly, in my world, there is no room for covers. If an artiste cannot take a song by the scruff of the neck and put his own stamp on it, then he may as well stay in bed all day. And what we have from them here are some genuine interpretations, but also some covers in the GUISE of interpretations. About 50/50. Successes? Well, the title track for instance is a bold attempt at providing a modern take on a song we took in with our mothers milk. I salute them for it, as I do for their darker interpretation of Pete Seegers old favorite John Riley. Brave failures include their interpretation of another Pete Seeger recording, East Virginia Blues. Here, I want to point you to their liner notes: We have attempted to duplicate with electric guitars, drums, bass and pedals, the ferocity he put into his performance with a simple banjo and vocal. Did you read what you WROTE there boys? Did you not stop and THINK for a minute? Did you not think that the whole darned journey with this song was at best an under whelming one? After all, what do you get, when you arrive at the end? In your own words, you get DUPLICATION. My friends, that should NOT be what interpretation is about? By duplication, you are in reality, just COVERING. And there were real covers here. You can change a few words if you like, add some drums and electricity, and also add a few extra notes, but that does not make it an interpretation. Your version of World Turned Upside Down was pure Dick Vaughan. Not good enough. I want pure Lehto & Wright. And the version of Down Where The Drunkards Roll was phrase-for-phrase Richard Thompson, almost down to the Southern English accent. Impressive as an act of imitation, but a million miles from interpretation. And gents, if push comes to shove, I would rather drink my Richard Thompson NEAT. Right. Rant over. Don't think, as I sign off, that I hated your album. I did not. Far from it. I am just disappointed. It could have been far, far more than it was.— Dai Woosnam
Green Man Review
If you only need two reasons for buying this album, then they surely must be the bands rendition of 'World Turned Upside Down', 'Down Where the Drunkards Roll' or 'Nancy Spain'. Yes, I know that is three songs, but any two of them will convince you this is a superb album really worth having in your collection. This is folk rock at it very best. I am still amazed that they are only really well known in the U.S.A. Coming from Minneapolis, MN area, Steve Lehto and John Wright have on the cover of this album acknowledged Matt Jacobs, their drummer -- who does a superb job laying down the percussion for the tracks, while Steve and John, apart from handling the vocals, multi track acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, and mandolin.
This is the band's fourth album, and once again the album is laid very much as a art form with some rare tunes or pieces of music interspersed between the heavy rock treatment given to the main songs. Indeed, on this album they have enlisted a string quintet to add the necessary ambiences. Often running straight into the next song these serve to 'clean the palate' as it where and set the mood for the next track. For example: in between the Leon Rosleson song 'World Turned Upside Down', which the band has a arrangement of, and 'Down Where the Drunkards Roll' (Richard Thompson), again with a rock treatment, you find a classical string quintet with 'The Earl of Otherwhere'. This description may sound a little odd to some, but it works extremely well.
A medieval Italian piece of music, 'Comiciamento di gioia' arranged for two acoustic guitars, and played extremely well by John and Steve, presents a nice backdrop for the rock treatment given to the Barney Rush song 'Nancy Spain'. This has to be my personal favourite on this album, set of by a nice imaginative solo on the wailing electric guitar by Steve.
Well worthy of an extra mention are traditional songs 'John Riley' and the song from which the album takes its title, 'The Thrashing Machine' -- both great arrangements. My only small criticism on the whole album is track 7. It's an instrumental collage called 'Bonaparte's Retreat / Banbury Bill / Son Ar Chiste / The Juggler'. At nearly 11 minutes long it did drag on a bit and found me hitting the skip button. However, the next track, 'John Riley', with Steve's blistering guitar solo restored my interest, particularly as there are no drums on this track, just acoustic and electric guitar. The result is outstanding. At track 8 you will find 'Manassas', a clever instrumental with John on acoustic guitar and Steve on mandolin. This is written by John Wright and clears the palate for 'The Thrashing Machine' admirably. At track 10 is another song by John Wright called '(Blessed is) The Healing'. This preempts a different version of Pete Seeger's 'East Virginia Blues'. I recognized the words, but in this case John Wright sets them to a different tune. Curiously, the album ends with same tune that is at track 2, 'The Earl of Otherwhere' written by Steve Lehto, only this time instead of it being played by the Ataria String Quartet, it features just Steve on his high string guitar.
This what I call a progressive folk rock album with good taste, nicely presented, with excellent arrangements that lift Lehto & Wright, and not forgetting drummer Matt Jacobs, up on to another level. I have no hesitation in recommending this album to all folk rock buffs. You can buy online at Lehto & Wright Web site, and also at the New Folk Records site.
fRoots, May 2006
The last product from Lehto & Wright got me in a real lather and yet again Thrashing Machine delivers, gaining a huge thumbs up. I totally sympathize with what these guys are up to and the fact that they've echoes - only echoes, mark you - of earlier American noise folk crews like Boiled In Lead and Cordelia's Dad does them credit, not harm. All too often our cousins over the big pond tackle British trad (no question about their enthusiasm), either as copycat or a soupy, half crazed mutant intention, usually labeled something unfortunate like Celtic rock! As if Hors lips hadn't happened.
To give us back our own and do something that bit extra takes smarts, thankfully Steve Lehto and John Wright have the chops. Instrumentally they have no time for fiddles, squeeze boxes or such, rather they go for a straight-down-the-line rock format, guitar/ bass/ drums, except that this time they do get away with adding a string quartet here and there.
Mostly the album's cohesive, except for a technically skilful, but out of place crack at Italian classical guitar. So overlook that slight lapse and feast your ears instead on The Earl Of Other where, a gorgeous soft core original by the aforementioned string quartet that leads into a deeply atmospheric take of Down Where The Drunkards Roll, Lehto's vocals bringing out the lyrics of pathetic ritual and cravings in unsettling starkness. There's a heartfelt Nancy Spain which precedes the crashing guitar sonics of a 1O-minute-plus jig workout. Elsewhere John Riley is dark and gothic, though the title track tops the pile, a boisterous, tongue-in-cheek update of the ancient farmer meets comely maid subtext. Somebody over here, please pick up on these blokes, we're missing out. The Thrashing Machine & Other Stories is a tonic, fall for its charms. www.newfolkrecords.com— Simon Jones
A Game of Chess, New Folk Records; 2003
Dirty Linen: Folk & World Music, #114 October/November 2004
Lehto & Wright [New Folk Records 3760 (2003)] Guitarist Steve Lehto and guitarist/bassist/vocalist John Wright aren't yet household names, but they're among North America's best practitioners of Anglo-Celtic folk-rock. The third CD from this Minnesota duo (augmented by drummer Matt Jacobs) again features wonderfully intricate, powerful guitar-driven music based on traditional songs from the British Isles, utilizing both acoustic and electric instruments to create some sonic marvels. The duo is equally at home interweaving scintillating acoustic guitar riffs with bass and drums on the English boy meets girl narrative " The Long Peg and Awl" or blasting out a stunning electrified version of the Irish ballad "The Curragh of Kildare" theat's full of sharp, skirling, Richard Thompsonesque fret board jumps and melodic spins. Wright's wiry voice has the perfect sort of raw edge fro these gritty arrangements. If you're a fan of electric folk or just great guitar playing, Lehto & Wright are worth your attention.— TN
All too often Americans who claim British electric folk as influence end up making a half-cocked noise that they'll boast is Celtic rock. Most of the decent crews - Boiled in Lead, we Saw the Wolf, Cordelia's Dad - are either defunct or semi-comatose. They may not be quite in such exalted company just yet, but you can add Lehto & Wright to that roll call before long. A huge thumbs up for A Game of Chess, that takes all kinds of familiar bits and bobs, stripping them right down to a skeletal guitar, bass and drums, then going for broke. Why should you love this? For one thing there are no cod accents; for another, there's a general absence of things like fiddles and squeeze boxes, just good old rock hardware. And there's only a couple of predictable choices in the track selection - though what they do with "The Curragh of Kildare" will have you grinning from ear to ear, especially if you like loud, voluminous guitar solos. You can imagine them mulling over a stack of old import folk albums, wondering how to deflower the next chestnut. well worth hunting down. www.lehtoandwright.com will have details of this and their earlier offerings as yet unheard - by these ears at least.
The Further Adventures of Darling Cory, New Folk Records; 2002
fRoots, no. 237, March 2003
In an age of re-invention and re-interpretation of folk song within a contemporary format, including Snakefarm and the Be Good Tanyas, the Anglo/American side of the folk-rock cannon has been somewhat forgotten. In this light, multi-instrumentalists Steve Lehto and John Wright infuse their craft with a modicum of invention and attack. The use the heavy guns with scorching remakes of "Arthur McBride and the Sergeant" and "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," all barely repressed anger, heightened by equal doses of Fairport electricity and Seattle Grunge. Tenderness and subtlety is not beyond their reach in The Lament for Limerick. Lehto and Wright produce a tight, seasoned yet compact sound, offering a fresh blast of inventive folk-rock American style.Dirty Linen
Finally for this month, one more to rock out with. The Minneapolis duo Lehto and Wright has recorded another mighty collection of well chosen British and American songs and dance tunes called The Further Adventures of Darling Corey. Steve Lehto is a master of assorted electric and acoustic guitars, with a raucous, skirling style on the former and a contrastingly delicate, harmonious touch on the latter. John Wright plays ominous-sound bass, often as a second lead instrument, as well as acoustic guitars and percussion. Wright is also the duo's potent, gritty-voiced lead singer. They growl and bang their way through the Irish song "Arthur McBride and the Sergeant" in a manner reminiscent of fellow Minnesotans Boiled in Lead, give Pete Seeger's "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" an angry reading influenced by Dick Gaughan, and blast through "The Monaghan Jig" with a bass lead that gives way to guitar pyrotechnics. There are some quiet tracks too, like Lehto's eloquent, mournful acoustic arrangement of "The Lament of Limerick." Highly recommended for anyone who's not afraid of the effects of amplification.All Music Guide
This album continues in much the same manner as Lehto & Wright's 2000 offering Ye Mariners All. Exceptionally talented on guitars and bass respectively, Steve Lehto and John Wright evoke memories of arguably the strongest period in Fairport Convention's storied career: their early 70s period, particularly 1970's Full House. That is, when this duo decides to play electric folk. The hitch is that Lehto & Wright are such fine acoustic musicians and interpreters of tradition that they dutifully need to devote as much album space to acoustic finger picking as rock & roll. With a vast reservoir of folk songs from the US and UK this duo is capable at arranging as well, giving new life to obscure and well-known traditional songs alike. The gaps are filled in with Nick Drake interludes and brief original compositions. While it would be easy to declare Lehto & Wright the American Fairport Convention or the equivalent of Ashley Hutchings meets John Renbourn there is so much more involved here like the John Fahey and Ian Anderson influences or the amorphous Band allusions that crop up intermittently. The latter might simply be explained because of the historic liner images coupled with the occasional North American folk selections. Regardless, this is a superb collection of folk and folk-rock that fans of all the aforementioned artists are bound to appreciate.Folk World CD Reviews
I already praised John Wright's (acoustic guitar, bass, mandolin, vocals) solo effort (-> FW#17). Again, I'm very pleased. His partnership with Steve Lehto (acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, vocals) even increases the amount of pleasure (-> FW#18). The duo from Minneapolis plays electrified Celtic/English folk in the Steeleye Span idiom, at times a bit bizarre. Some traditional ballads, "Arthur McBride", "Darling Cory", some contemporary songs, some tunes. "Trouble with Strings" was written out of frustration while learning The Monaghan Jig. The thought was to write a guitar tune as opposed to a fiddle tune. The "Monaghan Jig" then is played on the bass guitar. "Nancy Whiskey" (in 4/4 instead waltz time) is very powerful; even the odd "Kisses Sweeter than Wine" becomes a real gem. It's not my thing to become eloquent and produce silly words, so I'm finishing off here and now. Just get it!— Tom Kamphans
The Green Man Review, 12/19/02
Further Adventures of Darling Cory is Lehto and Wright's second album, the first being Ye Mariners All. The first time I played this album, it put me in mind of Little Johnny England and Show of Hands, as the guitar styles are very similar. Nothing wrong with that, and if you are a fan of either of those bands, you will be sure to love this album, for it is brilliant.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, maybe on the east side of the Atlantic who have not yet heard of Lehto & Wright, let me introduce you. Steve Lehto and John Wright, a folk rock duo, are the basis of the band on the album. They come from the "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota in the US (music editor's note: my home town!). They have been playing as a duo, or a trio when they add Matt Jacobs on drums, for about 3 years. Matt joins the duo on drums for most of the tracks on this album, but apart from the occasional guest musician, the principals multi track the other instruments mixing acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin and fret less bass.
From this you will deduce that this very much a studio production, but Lehto and Wright are nevertheless both extremely talented musicians. Understandably they will be greatly revered by other musicians. John Wright plays acoustic guitar, bass, and mandolin. Steve Lehto plays acoustic and electric guitar, and mandolin. Wright takes all the lead vocals and has a fine voice, while the harmonies by Lehto work very well. It is to their credit that Lehto & Wright are futuristic and not afraid of trying new or different effects, one of which is a back delayed echo effect on the vocals of the songs 'Arthur McBride and the Sergeant', and 'Waist Deep in the Big Muddy'. This may not be to everyone's liking at first, but the more I listened to it, the more acceptable it became. This is my only tiny criticism of a near perfect album.
Lehto & Wright show a spirited and aggressive style to their arrangements. Most are traditional English, Irish and American songs and dance tunes, often played with an intuitive sharpness on acoustic instruments then rising with a passion using the electric guitar and fret less bass. This is demonstrated beautifully by three of the tracks: the medley of 'Gan Ainm, The Three Little Drummers, The Trouble with Strings', the song 'Flora' and 'The Monaghan Jig', which starts with John playing the lead on a fret less bass before the other instruments come in. It really is a superb arrangement. The album takes its title from the song 'Darling Cory', an old Weavers classic. Lehto & Wright's arrangement is somewhat livelier, to say the least, with a rock treatment.
There is plenty of variation on this album. Following 'Darling Cory' is a beautiful slow tune 'The Lament for Limerick' played by Steve Lehto on acoustic guitar, with some double tracking towards the end using the mandolin and harp guitar. Lehto plays solo again on another track with the traditional Scottish tune 'Loch Lomond'. this serves as a back drop for the medley 'The Yellow Wattle', An Phis Fliuch', and 'The Mountain Road'. It all works very well with the first two tunes played on electric guitars with just a little bit processing and distortion.
To add even more variation to Darling Cory, at track 14 is a nice acoustic arrangement of 'Kisses Sweeter Than Wine' sung by John Wright. This is followed by 'Handsome Johnny / The Humours of Whitegate'. The last song finds Wright with acoustic guitar singing 'Her Washbin', and then the album bows out, as it started, with some mood music called 'Horn'. It's very clever really, as it leaves you wanting to hear more --the best way to leave an audience!
Conclusion: this is a well-thought-out, nicely-produced album, with good material that is very well played and sung. In short it is a very entertaining album. It exudes that magic that makes this reviewer want to see the band perform live, but if that's not possible, I will certainly be looking forward to their next album. This album is a benchmark that will influence others. Get it as soon as you can.— Peter Massey
Ye Mariners All, New Folk Records; 2000
As ubiquitous as the guitar may be in accompanying 21st century interpretations of Celtic and English music, across the full spectrum from acoustic traditional bands to folk-rock, it's relatively rare to hear it used as a featured lead instrument. Hot fiddlers, flute players, squeeze box squeezers, and pipers abound these days, but rare is the group that features a standout lead guitarist. It's as if guitars just aren't traditional enough to stand alongside electric bass and drum kits.
The Minneapolis duo Lehto & Wright is a welcome exception. On Ye Mariners AII [Narnian Records 0012 (2001)], Steve Lehto and John Wright, joined by drummer Matt Jacobs, have put together a brilliant collection of mostly English and Irish material in guitar-grounded arrangements. They're equally versed in acoustic and electric modes, with sparkling acoustic tracks like "The Butcher Boy" that feature interlocking licks from multiple guitars alternating with crunchy electric power-trio numbers in which Wright switches to eight-string bass, like "Four Drunken Maidens." There's plenty of fast jig-picking, tasty string-bending, and clever cross-genre colorings, like Nick Drake's classic "Pink Moon" interwoven with "Banish Misfortune" played on resonator guitar. The title track is a 1O-minute wonder, an eerie nautical tale followed by a multi-instrumental excursion that brings in zither and harp guitar, among other things, and a cover of Drake's "Black Eyed Dog" is a scary, screaming fury of strings. This is fascinating, creative music.Rambles, A Cultural Arts Magazine, Article link
This multi-faceted album by Lehto and Wright mixes traditional Celtic songs and tunes, electric guitar, acoustic folk and an alternative rock-type sound. There are songs and tunes on this recording to appeal to a good range of listeners...
The band, hailing from Minneapolis, consists of Steve Lehto (electric, acoustic, 12-string, high string and harp guitars, lap steel, percussion and vocals) and John Wright (8-string and double bass, acoustic and harp guitars, bass pedals and vocals). Lehto and Wright are joined by the able Matt Jacobs on drums and various percussion.
I absolutely loved the first track on the album, a high-energy, electric version of "Four Drunken Maidens." The vocal harmonies are exquisite, especially during the a cappella bits. Wright and Lehto's voices make a good combination, and the snappy guitar melodies add a great deal of energy to the song. The next track, "The Butcher Boy," slows down the pace a little bit. Wright is the lead vocalist, with an appealing voice and good range.
I enjoyed the instrumental tracks on the album as well. "Jerry's Beaver Hat/The Eavesdropper/Con Casey's Jig" is a set of jigs featuring strong percussion and some excellent picking on the guitars. The mandolin blends well with the guitars. I particularly like the percussion in this set, as well as in "The One Legged Man/The Cock on the Wall." This set was written by Wright -- good, strong tunes and great sounding acoustic guitars. "The Lamentation of Owen Roe O'Neill/The Gander in the Pratie Hole" also features good energy and some wonderful guitar harmonies.
Some of the other songs on the album feature a rather unique blend of Celtic and electric that sound as though they had a heavy influence from "alternative" music. In "Harp/Pink Moon/Banish Misfortune," an alternative-sounding song is mixed within the framework of a traditional tune and Lehto's traditional-sounding "Harp." ...Track 7 is a good set of tunes, and its electric accompaniment style would not be out of place at a dance club -- I can imagine teens dressed up to the nines and throbbing to this one, with no idea that they're listening to traditional tunes!
I thought that the best result came from the traditional songs and tunes (both acoustic and electric), and would like to hear more from them in that genre.— Cheryl Turner
All Music Guide, Expert Review
Bassist John Wright further explores his interest in traditional and folk music with this collection of stripped down (sometimes intimate, sometimes rousing) pieces. He's teamed up with talented acoustic and electric guitarist Steve Lehto who accompanied Wright sparingly on his previous "electric" recording Just Left of Center. This recording also features drummer Matt Jacobs who's also worked with Wright on his solo project as well as with the Celtic-rock Stuart Martz Band. On Ye Mariners All Lehto shares the spotlight with Wright as both perform, arrange and produce on an equal basis. Lehto's acoustic style can be likened to that of lan Anderson ("Skewbald") and Al Pettway ("Lamentation of Owen Roe O'Neill") while electrically he's more difficult to pin down although hints of Richard Thompson ("Four Drunken Maidens") and Martin Carthy ("Beamish's Goat" medley) are definitely evident. While the acoustic or stripped down electric treatment prevails on this album there are rocking moments, most notably their take on Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog" and portions of the epic title track both of which are endowed with Lehto's deft fingerprints. Wright handles the lead vocals in his unique delivery and his vast array of underlying basses reinforces the notion of the symbiotic relationship that should exist between talented guitarists and empathetic and equally talented bassists.— Dave Sleger
Ledge #50, May 2001
John Wright has been a professional musician, who has been a subscriber to this magazine for quite a few years now. His previous album "At Cross Purposes" and the Stuart Martz band album "Threesome Reel" on which he features were reviewed many issues ago. I enjoyed those album then, and am glad to see that he finally has another release. This time with Steve Lehto, a guitarist no little talent. John plays guitars as well, though his main instrument is the bass, which helps some of these mainly traditional songs to thunder along rather than just jog. Percussionist Matt Jacobs joins them throughout the album, with other guests on a few songs as well. The album includes their takes on several well known songs and tunes, "Four Drunken Maidens", and an excellent "Ye Mariners All" for example. The medley of "Jerry's Beaver Hat", "The Eavesdropper" and "Con Casey's Jig" is a must listen to, the arrangement very different to the Fairport one we all know. Another medley includes Nick Drake's "Pink Moon", and "Banish Misfortune", based on Richard Thompson's arrangement of the tune. There are gentle acoustic pieces, and solid rockers, with Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog" arranged for the latter. Being an independent release in America this may not be easy to find, but you can contact the label direct at New Folk Productions, P.O. Box 6182, Minneapolis, MN 55406 tel 612-824-7346 or http://www.newfolkproductions.com. CDNowand Amazon should also be able to supply copies (please see store page to purchase CDs).Folk World CD Reviews
The folk-rock duo Steve Lehto and John Wright — with the assistance of Matt Jacobs on percussion — released their first album 'Ye Mariners All'. The 13 songs are made up by new and skillful arrangements of traditional or covered pieces and own songs, influenced by american as well as celtic folk. The 3 Americans perform their songs with virtuosity, combining excellent finger picking guitar with voices pleasing to the ear. And though it sounds not really new or exceptional, everyone who likes folk-rock songs in the style of Fairport Convention or guitar tunes in the style of Brian McNeill will enjoy this record.— Tom Kamphans
Just Left of Center, New Folk Records; 1998
All Music Guide, 2/10/00
John Wright's resume is a reflection of the influences hecites. On his second solo album Just Left of Center,bassist, guitarist and vocalist Wright again incorporates those diverse elements, but this time into a much more condensed body.To his credit this album flows extremely smoothly; folk-tinged songs lie comfortably aside fusion and proggish rockers. For instance, "Soft Tears" is a gentle folk number that Sandy Denny might have taken a fancy to. It is followed by"Addiction/The Story," which unleashes a tremulous Robert Fripp-like guitar introduction. "Like Father Like Son"also employs the manic guitar sound that Fripp is known for, coupled with a vexing lyric reminiscent of Peter Hammill. "Forward Motion" recalls Dixie Dregs and Montrose fusion, while the album's one tradition piece "The Humors of Whisky/Stack the Rags" is an obvious nod to Fairport Convention or perhaps the Stuart Martz Band, for whom he's recently played. Wright composed 11 of the 13 songs on this album and while many influences appear evident, Just Left of Center displays originality, distinction and adept playing at every turn.— Dave Sleger
Dirty Linen Folk & World Music, #89 August/September 2000
This second recording from bassist/songwriter John Wright is a combination of mid-80s Gladys' Leap-era Fairport Conventional folk-rock, filtered through such influences as King Crimsonand The Dixie Dregs, mixed with a touch of progressive jazz.
Wright's songs (he wrote 11 of the tracks) are fairly basic and straight forward, dealing with love ("Soft Tears")and ("All the Answers to Sell"), redemption ("Rosesby Day"), and despair ("No Stranger to the Fall").His "Black Thorn Hill" is written in the style of traditional song, and the one cover song, Pete Seeger's "WellMay the World Go," opens the album on a rousing note.
Wright plays the majority of the instruments, multi-tracking bass, acoustic and electric guitars, and mandolins on most of the tracks, with Matt Jacobs (drums) and Stuart Martz (violin)joining in. A few tracks, like the seven-minute instrumental track "Forward Motion," feature electric guitarist Steve Lehto. Wright has come up with an enjoyable recording that any fan of folk-rock will surely love.— JLe
Rambles, A cultural arts magazine, 3/7/00, Article Link
John Wright's Just Left of Center is a dimension of folk rock that is wildly progressive and original.John is a bass player, singer and songwriter based in the Twin Cities region who's making a refreshing mark with this latest release. Packed with musical concepts often too technical for inexperienced players, these songs will strike you with thoughtful arrangements and uncommon ideas. He is truly a well-studied musician.
As an artist, he's gained an extensive resume. Wright has most notably played bass with guitarist Billy McLaughlin progressive rockers Us, the bluesy Rhythm Doctors, Celtic rockers The StuartMartz Band, midwestern pop artist Tim Mahoney and roots rockers Kevin Bowe and the Okemah Prophets.
This exotic-mooded collection has influences ranging from an impressively wide variety of cultures. "Black Thorn Hill"hosts a musical theme centered around a modern acoustic guitar riff played over congo drums and an interesting tambourine rhythm. A surprising violin solo, played by Stuart Martz, celebrates the center of the piece and joins John to the exit. It makes nice mix. Then John courts Matt Jacobs' drums on a journey through his tastefully enhanced version of an Irish traditional,"The Humors of Whiskey." John plays all other parts on this track on his trademark 8-string bass, with overdubs of acoustic and electric guitars.
Lyrically, Wright tackles some pretty heavy issues. His sparse definitions often leave the interpretation up to the listener.The more I read his words, the more meanings I could create from what was actually sung, so you're on your own there. The overall modal aura suggests both celestial and dark tones.
Just Left of Center has a good blend of instrumental and vocal tracks. Being a songwriter myself, I really appreciate John's ability to utilize the same expert musicianship that was ever present in progressive rock bands of the late '70s and early'80s. This is obviously no first-year player. John shows off his talent on many stringed instruments and vocal abilities as well. One of these which I am especially fond is the 8-stringed bass. This instrument adds rich annunciation to the underlying bass lines so often done injustice by the cheap speakers that plague the world.
Influences noted range from Pete Seeger to King Crimson, from Fairport Convention to The Dixie Dregs. To liken his style to a well-known sound, its definitely reminiscent of classic Yes,without keyboards and inhumanly possible layers of vocal overdubs. Knowing this, John Wright's live performances must sound really similar to the quality found on the studio recording. Just Left of Center contains quality writing in the progressive arena with an interesting, original twist.— John Varner
Pulse of the Twin Cities, January 23, 2000
John Wright is an artist who, it would seem, works unendingly at his vision. Just Left of Center's baker's dozen are prim and tidy tunes, held together by some sonic feng shui that make them a joy to listen to. At times the disk is softly reminiscent of Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson, of Pentangle and Bert Jansch. "Blackthorn Hill," a Celtic-derived number which was included on the Pulse Homegrown disk, is perhaps Wright's fairest handling of this old-but-never-stale "triad"style.
Wright apparently plays bass (to very worthy acclaim) when working with others, but he articulates beautifully on guitar, mandolin, and percussion as well — and he has a damn fine voice. All in all, he's a world-class pro. Any fan of Boiled in Lead, Stealer's Wheel, Horse lips, Fairport Convention, and other Celtic prog bands will get a feast for the senses with Just Left of Center.— T. Alexander