Full disclosure: 13 years ago, Jonah played the Ziggens' Have a Bitchin' Summer over KAOR's waves for me as a demonstration of how cool it is to be a college radio jock. He may or may not have had a tape out roughly the same time that I kinda dug (he did).
Over the 6 songs and 22 minutes that make up his latest EP, Ghosts Don't Disappear, Frederick, MD musician Jonah Knight manages to sound both earnest and jaded, which is a bit of a neat trick. His storytelling voice is strong, while his singing voice evinces nostalgia for long-since-recovered-from pain.
On Far, he keeps mostly to a robustly authoritative whisper, only turning on the yearn-faucet for the swelling chorus. Going into the final third of the same song, Knight adds some desperate exasperation to the line, “And I will haunt you, my love/ until we both are dust,” that provides a satisfying emphasis despite feeling a bit menacing compared to the rest of the song.
The ghost/haunting pastiche is represented throughout, though never overbearingly. While a song may mention either theme word explicitly, it's just as likely the apparition in question is simply an evocative memory more powerful than expected.
Musically, Knight's guitar playing is well beyond competent, but it never threatens to steal the spotlight from the stories, keeping the tension taut and focused. His supporting cast augment his arrangements, adding beauty but no bloat.
The Window Frames (article-noun-verb, not article-adjective-noun) offers ruminations on the portal through which the inside and the outside examine each other.
In Someday We'll All Be Ghosts,he describes a deceased ship captain as follows: “He lived life on the ocean/ now he lives death in the ground.” Normally, I resent usage of the oft-lazy trick of writing something obvious but writing it like a moron to make it seem more pithy, but here Knight uses it to great effect, setting up compelling imagery of the geographies that inspired him.
On his website (jonahofthesea.com), Knight expresses a frustration with describing his music to others. People have compared him to a litany of acoustic rock/folk types that I could agree with only tenuously. While, yes, in essence, he is technically just another dude with an acoustic guitar, his methodology is entirely different. He doesn't indulge in the pedantic placeholder strumming so many, many dudes with acoustics rely on. He doesn't make the Springsteen face while playing (I hope).
Rather, there's a cool restraint to these songs that does set him aside from would-be genre peers. His point of view tends to be that of a reliable narrator with varying degrees of personal involvement, which leads to something of a detached perspective. Presumably owing to his theatre background, he's got the language to tell the stories he wants to, and the stories are the key.
Now as far as what his music reminds me of exactly , I might say Harry Chapin and then immediately regret it. Chapin's not at all what I think I mean, but that impulse does suggest that Knight has more in common with the singer/songwriters of generations past than he does with the contemporary batch.
Every now and again, a phrase will roll off Knight's tongue that'll prompt me to think of Joe Genaro. Not to say these songs sound like the Dead Milkmen; they don't. But his voice has a wit and a lilt to it that hints at his quirkier, more playful side not shown here.
The only song-to-song comparison I'll make is, again, not perfect and doesn't reflect the guts of the song, but The Problem With Math does shop at the same suit store as Yo La Tengo's Our Way To Fall. This is not a bad thing. I like ethereally warbling organs and whispered recountings of something or another.
Overall, this is an above-average collection of songs that exists on the fringes of a genre I absolutely detest. Knight puts compelling and quality songwriting before instrumental wankery, and establishing and maintaining moods over chart-friendly singalongability. For that, I forgive him his choice of tools in trade, and add commendation. He's more than just a dude with an acoustic.
Also, here's a thinger that ought give you an idea or two what the hell I just talked about for 700 words.