Only a year ago, few knew much about singer-songwriter [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]John Grant[/lastfm]. But his album Queen of Denmark sure knocked out the critics at Mojo Magazine, who named it their album of the year for 2010.
Grant was backed up on the album by his friends in the band [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Midlake[/lastfm] (who themselves released one of 2010′s best albums, The Courage of Others). And at South By Southwest this year, Midlake backed Grant up again for what turned out to be one of the week’s best showcases. The show took place inside the beautiful Central Presbyterian Church, whose tall, wood-lined sanctuary is one of the best-sounding venues in all of Austin.
Grant’s album Queen of Denmark was recorded during 2008 and 2009 in Midlake’s studio in Denton, Texas. It took many by surprise when Mojo named it album of the year, even choosing it over the equally superb album The Courage of Others, by Grant’s friends and collaborators Midlake.
Queen is a powerful album of highly personal songs–a mix of “self-lacerating ballads” (Mojo’s words) that are intense, deep, and at the same time, presented with astonishing beauty. The lyrics can be dark, but the whole work resonates with rich, folk-based instrumentation and melodies that, despite the subject matter, are actually rather catchy.
During a 40-minute set for SXSW, though, it was clear that Grant was in a very different personal space than he was when he wrote the songs. He was happy for the opportunity to perform at the festival, and thrilled, too, to be joined by his friends in Midlake, who again brought his already powerful songs to even greater life.
This wasn’t just your typical quiet singer-songwriter set; the songs were layered with guitar, piano, violin, and flute, and they often built to raging crescendos that filled the church’s vast, dimly lit room to capacity with sound. Grant’s voice soared into the balconies and high wooden rafters, and the fact that the performance took place under a huge hanging cross on the back wall only added to the experience. And at show’s end, Grant received an immediate standing ovation–rare for a frequently jaded SXSW audience. And as we streamed out of the sanctuary, several people could be heard humming the songs. Apparently Grant had, yet again, made an impact.
Get a free MP3 of John Grant’s song “Marz” courtesy of Spinner