Jonathan Nicholas – Rolling Eyes and Sighs – EP Review
Something a little bit different for me landed in my inbox last week when Jonathan Nicholas sent me his new EP. “Rolling Eye’s and Sighs” he’s a Swansea based singer songwriter who’s entirely acoustic, in my younger days this would have not been cool but I’m apparently a grown up now, at least according to conventional measurements like “age” anyway, so I don’t mind the odd acoustic set of tunes if its done well, and this is. Recorded mixed and mastered in one day at Sonic One studios with Tim Hamill, if your looking for something gentler but still beautifully played and performed this might be the one for you. I say gentler though its still played with plenty of passion, feeling and energy where appropriate.
The 6 track E.P. opens up with “What is Truth” which comes in with sort of rolling guitar and wastes no time getting in to the vocals either, we’ll have no long self indulgent intros here thank you very much! Good choice on that by the way, I approve. Its a simple but effective vocal melody and Jonathan has a strong voice that sounds like there’s a bit more power lurking under there, not that its needed here, he just sounds like he could dial it up a few notches quite easily should he choose to. As you may have guessed by the title there does seem to be a message in this song Jonathan is making a statement with this by the sounds of it, the songs flows easily from verse to chorus with a full sounding guitar, vocals and no messing about, its a good start.
Second song “Fading Shadow” is a much gentler more sedate affair taking us down a notch or two, in tempo and feel, starting off with some lovely sounding picked guitar parts before that warm rich sounding voice comes in over the top with a much more subtle vocal that flows nicely, almost intertwining with the guitar parts, drifting in and out of playing the same melodies at points and then almost taking it in turns to accent each others parts, it gives a nice simple feel to the song that if you listen properly is actually much more difficult to pull off playing this style than it sounds, a nice contrast to the opening song.
Third track in is “How Can You Break” and is so far the most “traditional” sounding song in terms of structure at least, this one sounds more like the kind of song that may have been written for a band but of course like any well written song works well in this acoustic and vocal setting. In his “blurb” about this E.P. On his Jonathan mentions a grunge influence and this song is where you can here that a bit more. It reminds me a bit of something you might have heard on an MTV unplugged session “back in the day” – yeah it makes me feel old as well as sound old writing that. Its a nice song this and Jonathan works the dynamics really well on this song as it builds and gets bigger in the chorus and isn’t afraid to drop the dynamic abruptly at the end of the chorus to take us back to the verses which makes the choruses really stand out, this effect is only amplified after the middle section of the song takes us up another notch emphasising that drop even more before a final short verse and chorus and the song ends with a nice full sounding guitar outro.
Track four “Hiraeth” – welsh for the feeling of longing for home for those of you who dint know – starts of sounding a bit more ballady – yes I’m making up words again – than the other songs so far but soon ramps up the energy as we journey through song towards the chorus. Appropriately for the title this song gives a vibe of “travelling music” if that’s even a thing, listening to the lyrics there’s a vibe that this song was written whilst off adventuring somewhere but definitely missing home or perhaps someone at home, anyway its a good tune and again Jonathan works the dynamics well with the song swelling in to the chorus’s and easing off in the verses, an important but often missed thing in acoustic artists from my experience.
“Counting the Cost” is the penultimate song and takes us back to that wonderful finger picked guitar playing again its a more dark brooding affair than previously though, those deep warm sounding vocals stand out a bit more on this one as well, I guess its due to the space left by the picked guitar giving the vocals more room to fill out the sound, again its simple but powerful vocals weaving around those guitar parts and complimenting each other nicely.
Jonathan rounds out this EP with “Vanity Vanity” and its another example of more of those rock influences coming in to play, despite only being acoustic guitar and vocals, there’s bits that remind me of bands like Pearl Jam doing a stripped back acoustic set, the verse is slow and dark sounding but sounds like its leading somewhere and then after a nice little guitar part the short sharp energetic teaser of the chorus with a big tempo tempo jump comes out of nowhere to throw a nice little earworm of a melody at you and before you know it we’re back in to that verse. I like this idea of just giving a little taster of what’s coming later to keep up the interest, the second time round its not as if the chorus is that much longer really, but Jonathan does allow himself a bit of freedom to let loose on the guitar afterwards blasting out some nice parts that wouldn’t sound out of place with a lot more volume on them and some filthy distortion. The vocals on this song are just as great as any of the earlier ones, sung with plenty of feeling, he definitely sounds like he means it and its a good way to finish this EP off.
Overall this is an excellently played set of acoustic songs, I like the fact that unlike a lot of people Jonathan has decided not to layer up lots of string sections, piano parts or whatever else and has just let his great guitar playing, that deep rich voice and good songwriting speak for itself. This isn’t light gentle acoustic, there’s a strength to the guitar playing and vocals that give it a power and feel that a lot of acoustic artists just don’t have. Jonathan knows how to put a song together and knows how to work the dynamic of a song well to give just the right impact at the right time. Not bad for a days work in the studio that, good stuff.