A few months ago someone made me a mixtape. Rather a good mixtape in fact, with delights ranging from the London Bulgarian Choir to Louis Armstrong to Mosca (do yourself a favour and seek out “Tilt Shift,” it’s a tune). But there was one song that really stood out, the kind of song that you makes you stop doing anything else apart from hit repeat ten times in row; it was a heartbreakingly simple folk song called “Bet She Does,” on which Jono McCleery, accompanied solely by his guitar, wrung more emotion out of his voice than some people do in a career. So when I had the chance to see him perform, of course, I went. And when I had heard that he had a second album coming out, of course I bought it. Which brings us, at last, to There Is.
I suppose I should begin by saying that “Bet She Does” isn’t on it. And that its absence isn’t felt. At all. Because There Is is an even more rewarding listening experience. It’s still all about McCleery, his spellbinding voice and his guitar, but just as “Bet She Does” was so much more than just a folk song, so There Is marks a huge step forward from “Bet She Does.”
Jono McCleery is a part of the One Taste Collective, a vibrant spoken word and music underground phenomenon in London that has provided a platform for artists as diverse as Jamie Woon, Newton Faulkner, Stac and Tanya Auclair to shine. What they all have in common, first and foremost, is soul, stunning voices, and a desire to marry traditional music with contemporary instruments, rhythms and genres to make music that’s very much of this time. And Jono McCleery is no different.
He sets out his stall on the breathtaking “Fears,” a song that blends elements of jazz, breakbeat and, yes, folk, to mesmerising effect, with a bit of scratching thrown in for good measure. The thing is that when you start throwing genres around like this as a reviewer, it can all begin to sound a bit pretentious or unnatural, however There Is is anything but – this is music from the heart, performed with passion, skill and grace.
At the start you’ll be lured in by the power of McCleery’s voice, because, well, it demands your attention. It’s warm but haunting, and conveys a vast range of emotions (and octaves) without ever losing control. McCleery’s vocal dexterity actually obscures the fact that he’s a damned fine lyricist because most of the time you’ll be too busy admiring his vocal gymnastics to pay attention to what he’s actually saying.
But once you look beyond the voice (and the lyrics) you’ll find an album that reveals more layers with every listen. There’s a whole mass of styles of moods and styles that take off from the fulcrum of McCleery’s voice; “Stand Proud” is quietly anthemic, “Tomorrow” is a melancholy epic complete with a three minute instrumental introduction, the close harmonies on “Raise Me” and “She Moves” are simply a joy and “The Gymnopedist” is a flight of fancy that somehow conjures up images of Kate Bush.
However, for all the contemporary flourishes, the exceptional production, the intricate arrangements, the sympathetic, subtle (and oh so tight) rhythm section, There Is is a record powered by that timeless force of nature; a man with a guitar singing his heart out. But what a man, what a voice, and what a record.
– Will Georgi