'Illusive Harmony' EP Review - April 2020
Holly D. Johnston: Illusive Harmony EP (2020)
Local Feature Spread - February 2020
"Illusive Harmony sees Holly in tip top both vocally and from a songwriting point of view... There's no doubt about it, Holly has a wonderful way with words."
House of Prog June 2019
Grapevine April 2019
March/ April Maverick Magazine
She accompanies herself on the acoustic guitar or at the piano. In 'Frida', (about the painter Frida Kahlo), viola and cello are added. When further colours - as in 'James Watt 1812'; Pennywhistle, Flute and Organ, or in Black Crow Mandolin and Cello - join in, the soundscape moves more in the direction of Loreena McKennitt, looking for much stronger Celtic motifs and passionate singing. This is how the sensitive melancholic folk tunes are made memorable. Turning Circles'; or 'Is This Love'; evoke Eva Cassidy or Judy Collins.
The historically interested Johnston also reminds us of important social contributions by women in 'Women of History'; Tick Tock Da Vinci'; without sounding complaining, and 'Skipping Stones'; with Djembe slightly African. At the end the drums sneak into 'Basket'.
Lovely, unforced music."
With Thanks to the East Anglian and Stephen Foster for announcing the album launch so spectacularly!
Boathouse Keepers “Emperor of Oranges” (Backwater Records 2017)
Folkwords: Charlie Elland September 2017
‘Emperor of Oranges’ – Boathouse Keepers - worth taking time to know(September 04, 2017)
Superb album from a top performer! Deeply moving songs performed with real passion
Reviews for East Anglian Girl 2013:
December 2013 Stephen Foster of BBC Suffolk and the East Anglian Daily Times wrote:
"Holly is back sounding every bit as good if not better than before... it's no wonder the UK's folk fraternity is taking Miss Johnston to its hearts" EADT 10th January 2014
‘East Anglian Girl’ from Holly Johnston – profoundly individual, emotional songs
(December 23, 2013)
I must confess, the album ‘East Anglian Girl’ is the first I’ve heard of Holly Johnston, and I cannot imagine why. With her obvious gift for writing profoundly individual, emotional songs and delivering them through pure, passionate, expressive vocals it is frankly unthinkable that Holly could keep that talent hidden away.
Apparently, Holly released a debut album over ten years ago, which gained considerable recognition – no surprises there. Then she left her audience waiting for the follow up – probably in disbelief that such a travesty could occur. Never mind, for those that know her work there’s the delicious anticipation for the release of ‘East Anglian Girl’ in January 2014, and for those that don’t a significant treat awaits.
Possessing an instant attraction, ‘Read me A Story’ opens the album and tells its achingly elemental human story, with unerring accuracy. The sweetly painful, mortal truth that Holly puts into her songs makes them striking - messages of experience, memories shared and hauntingly exact observations – one person sharing incidents and encounters that touch everyone. Listen to ‘Maybe You Would Be’ and ‘Watch Them Fall’ or the simple cello and piano delicacy of ‘Just Like That’ and you’ll hear what precisely I mean. There’s more desperately tender beauty in ‘Calling Her’, coming close to being my favourite track. Then again, there’s the poetic candour and pain of ‘Sorry John’ that cuts like a knife. Needing an exceptional voice to deliver its soul touching narrative while avoiding mawkishness – Holly quite simply nails this song to perfection.
Musicians playing on ‘East Anglian Girl’ are Holly Johnston (vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, organ) with Florian Sauvaire (drums) Chris Lockington (electric and acoustic guitars) Steve Mann (bass, mandolin, 12-string and acoustic guitars, organ, electric piano) Mike Summers (drums, Cajon drum) Belinda Shave (cello) Alex Richardson (violin).
‘East Anglian Girl’ releases on Backwater Records on 6 January 2014. Believe me, it takes a lot to move an old cynic, yet this album moved me. So after the festive season excesses take my advice, start the New Year off with a special treat, buy this album.
Reviewer: Charlie Elland
HOLLY JOHNSTON EAST ANGLIAN GIRL BACKWATER
According to the press release it has been nine years since Holly’s debut album and single, and just can’t imagine why it has taken so long if the debut is anything like this. Mind you, the other burning question has to be why on earth I didn’t get to hear the first one all those years ago as this is a sheer delight from start to finish. It took me a long time to work out who she reminded me of, but in the end I realized that I was having the same reaction to this as I was the first time I came across Eva Cassidy, yes her voice is that good. The album straddles folk and acoustic music quite happily, and she has chosen her musical colleagues well as they do just enough to provide a good accompaniment without ever overpowering the wistful whimsy of her voice. Holly switches between acoustic guitar and piano, and there is a pop mentality in what she is doing, so I can see her crossing over into a wider audience of people who enjoy Judie Tzuke and Lucy Silvas. But, there are also those folk purists who are going to get a great deal from this album, as she knows exactly how to make simplicity seem multi-faceted and layered. A beautiful album in so many ways – let’s hope she doesn’t take another 9 years to make the next one.
Holly Johnston - Launch of new album, East Anglian Girl
Friday January 11th 2014
For those of us who are long standing fans of Suffolk’s singer songwriter Holly Johnston, it has been a long wait; her last album release was nine years ago and recorded when she was a teenager. Therefore it was with some sense of anticipation that we headed to the Cult Café on Ipswich Waterfront to hear her perform songs from the new album, East Anglian Girl out on Backwater Records, Steve Mann’s estimable Ipswich-based label.
In a varied programme Holly performed with a six-piece band, a trio, in a duo with her father Bill, which featured folk tunes remembered from her childhood. Most memorable of all however, was a solo spot in which Holly accompanied herself on guitar or piano, which provided some of the most intense moments of the evening.
Holly’s new songs are emotional yet straightforwardly-narrated and in some cases, very moving. They show the maturity you would have expected to witness in the intervening years since her last recordings. Her voice has also developed into a wonderful instrument; mellow, clear and expressive with that rare combination of folk and soul. Stand out moments of the evening were the hauntingly sad ‘Sorry John’ and by contrast, East Anglian Boy which, performed with the whole band, had power and a strong melody.
The only real disappointment was the inappropriateness of the venue; the Cult Café is to be congratulated for its new programme of folky Americana over the next few weeks (check out the programme at www.cultcafe.co.uk) and lord knows, we need more venues for this music in Ipswich. However, the place was filled with a mixture of people – some of whom were clearly there for the music and some for a noisy night out. Holly coped well with the pretty constant backdrop of talking and is to be congratulated for her uncompromising commitment to including some of her quietest songs.
Holly’s musicians were sensitive accompanists and especially in the last set of songs, played with confidence and generated plenty light and shade. It is a tribute to Holly, her songs and her band that there was such an ovation at the end. If there were any justice in the music business today (big if!) Holly would be playing in venues with acoustics which would do justice to her voice. The album is highly recommended and repays repeated listening.
East Anglian Girl by Holly Johnston is out now on Backwater Records
January 2014 - Grapevine Magazine
Holly Johnston is a Suffolk born and bred singer-songwriter who finds her roots in contemporary folk-pop music. For those of you who recognise the name, Holly's debut album and single some nine years ago left listeners eager for her follow-up recordings. After a long wait Holly's second album East Anglian Girl is finally released this month. You will certainly hear some of the twists and turns from the last decade in her songs and once again be lulled by Holly's beautiful pure voice.
May-July 2014 - Mardles Magazine
Holly is indeed an East Anglian Girl whose songs tell stories of everyday life that her listeners will be able to identify with. She sings in a clear voice which allows her to carry the emotion of the lyrics, and accompanies herself faultlessly on guitar and piano. On this album Holly has gone for a big production job without losing sight of her acoustic roots.
The opener Read me a Story is backed by electric guitar, bass and drums, a combination which certainly makes you sit up and listen. This theme is carried on through the next two tracks Maybe you would be and Watch them Fall, then taken right down with an acoustic arrangement of Just like that with Holly's piano and Belinda Shave's orchestrally arranged cello. The album is a good mix of band arrangements and more acoustic performances. Waterlillies is given the pop treatment whereas Sorry John is simply Holly and her piano. My favourites are the quieter songs as Holly's voice sometimes gets lost in the big band mix. East Anglian Boy and Dancing Around are the particular highlights for me. At the end of the album there is a Track 12, although only 11 are printed on the sleeve. A bonus.
Val Haines, March 2014