Planes Fly Too Low – John McDonough (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

It is fair to say that John McDonough has played to every sort of crowd that there is, from rowdy music bar gigs to more polite restaurant shows and everything in between. But even he didn’t expect what 2020 ushered in. No crowds at all! His response to the unprecedented events that the pandemic imposed upon musicians and creatives, was to take some time to rework some of his favourite songs and the result was a new, acoustic album called, appropriately enough, Second Chances.

Often drawing comparisons between Elton John and Harry Chapin, it is perhaps towards artists such as Damien Rice and David Gray that he leans with this new album, and this understated and gorgeous track is the perfect example of what you can expect from him this time out.

Planes Fly Too Low is a spacious and dexterously delivered slice of folk-Americana, a simple construction on the surface, just rhythmic guitars and John’s voice. But it is what lies between the notes and the words which make such songs more than the sum of their parts. And is certainly the case here. Between one lyrical line drifting off and the next being ushered in, between one chord and the next, there is plenty of space for less tangible elements to pool and percolate. Unexpected atmospheres, gentle anticipation, soulful sentiment, intrigue and nuance.

It is such unplanned effects happening in these negative spaces which make the song more effective, more poignant, more powerful than it might first appear. And that is a great understanding to have. Knowing that everything needs space to be heard properly, and by allowing the vocals and guitar lines room to drift off on their own, by letting them blend with the sound of the universe around them, they not only talk directly to the heart but also to the listeners very soul.

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