Once upon a time there was a singer-songwriter. He would stand alone with his guitar, on a hillside, in a glade, on the street, at the seaside, telling us all in a golden voice of searching and finding, of leaving and being left behind.
Johannes Mayer, aka THE LATE CALL, could previously be associated with this type of musician. The Stockholm-based, English-singing German has recorded three albums full of sparsely instrumented gems, with at most only hints of piano chords and the slightest accents of percussion. The picked and strummed acoustic guitar in all possible open tunings created the undergrowth above which the voice of the singer wandered. It’s this voice that, just like the water’s mirroring surface which Cocteau once described, pulls you into another world.
In a fairy tale, or in its adult brother, the coming-of-age story, the hero will eventually stride towards new horizons. And thus in 2012, after the release and tour of his album Pale Morning Light, Johannes Mayer spent a year writing new material, then packed his bags full of songs and went looking for a band. As luck would have it, the band he found proved to be pure gold for THE LATE CALL’s music. While Johannes Mayer had previously recorded or played live with these musicians, this constellation was a completely new one, and making music together had a magical effect.
In October 2014, Johannes Mayer (guitar), Patric Thorman (bass, Hammond organ), Henrik Roger (piano, Mellotron) and Lars Plogschties (drums, percussion) spent ten days in the grand recording room of Studio Nord in Bremen. The result was Golden, an album that brings to mind the music of the early seventies, the heyday of folkrock. The songs from Golden successfully bridge the gap between being at once warm and clear, laidback and dynamic. Instead of the digital editing associated with most records today, it is the musicians playing together, standing in a sworn half circle, that one hears above all.
With its sounds of glory, this album captures a golden era; when Hunter S. Thompson was writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Bob Dylan was riding on horseback with Kris Kristofferson through New Mexico, the time of the first Indie-songwriters flourishing either side of the big pond, here Townes van Zandt and Tim Hardin, there Nick Drake and John Martyn.
But this music also breathes a totally different air, that of the Here and Now! While the songs undoubtedly evoke folk and americana, early nineties independent brit pop also shimmers between the lines. And yet this eclecticism has never been the ultimate goal of their music. Most of all, THE LATE CALL have their own distinct sound - of Johannes Mayer and his band. They allow their music to breathe, giving room to its sounds and reverberations. It's no coincidence that the last track, “Telling Stories”, makes use of tape-delay, which can have the effect of seeming to draw out sound into eternity.
Music and the lyrics that go with it can address and shed light on the most ordinary and everyday of things, which might remain hidden in the noise and the chaos of the city without this music. Golden does exactly this in the most enchanting, profound way and from a variety of angles.
For example, the title song addresses a liar and a phoney, whose glory and gold cannot outlast the darkness of the night. In “The Pact” the story revolves around two people reminiscing about the past, when they were young and swore to themselves never to become like the old. Here, Ylva Ceder, Johannes Mayer's long-term musical acquaintance, sings the beautiful background vocals. When both sing the line ‘never to become like them, never to give in’, you can't help but think of two other voices, also ”blending in perfection”: Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, who sang about how much love hurts, when Nashville wasn't a dirty word yet.
Speaking of Nashville, in Robert Altman's masterpiece from 1975, there's a scene in which the young braggart Tom (Keith Carradine) sings an incredibly fragile love song in front of an extremely crowded club. Several women feel the song is addressed to them, but it is clear from his gaze, to whom the song is really directed. One could imagine Johannes Mayer in this role. “Opposite”, a very moving love song on Golden, has an unequivocal dedication, telling us about a lonely soul, who awkwardly tries to fill the hole which a loved one has left behind. And right there you'll hear THE LATE CALL again as the One Man Band, here's the singer-songwriter from the beginning. And here, again, this very special, longing and full voice, which carries you away to drop you off three minutes later at the place you once dreamed of being.