Review: John Smith sings of resilience, devotion and hope

“The Fray,” John Smith (Thirty Tigers)

Handclaps break out during the first song on John Smith’s new album, as if to applaud the sentiments to come.

“The Fray” is the British singer-songwriter’s response to the year just past, and he offers 12 tunes of resilience, devotion and hope, with determination in the lyrics and buoyancy in the music.

“It has been a crazy year; where do I begin?” Smith sings, his sandpaper tenor a voice of recovery.

There’s a comforting sway to the album’s melodic folk-pop, built on Smith’s subtle guitar work (he includes his tunings in the liner notes). And he has excellent help: Bill Frisell provides an elegant guitar solo on “The Best of Me,” and lovely vocal support comes courtesy of Sarah Jarosz, Lisa Hannigan and the Milk Carton Kids.

The arrangements benefit from a pleasant variety. “To the Shore” swings like a shanty, the title cut is elevated by gospel piano, and “Just As You Are” is a waltz for healing.

“Hold On” serves as the set’s centerpiece. With horns, angelic backing vocals and a smart guitar riff, it’s good music, and good advice.

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