“I Wanna Be Sure”/ “San Francisco”
by Laura Kallio
The first time I saw Little John, a little over a year ago at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge, the trio had only been playing together for a couple of months. While certainly enthusiastic, and all well-trained musicians capable of writing catchy, if somewhat cutsey, tunes, Seth Freeman’s vocals were lacking, sounding whiney when they should’ve sounded angry. Their lyrics were often insultingly simple and they were without that all-important “sound.” Their songs wandered around aimlessly without an established groove holding them together.
All I can say after listening to Little John’s latest offering is what a difference a year can make. The new seven-inch, a change for the band after two three-song demo tapes, is released on Crane Mountain Records. This recording is testimony to the benefit of serious vocal training and really showcases Little John’s improvement. Time certainly healed many wounds here. Their songs still have strong hooks, but they’ve managed to come up with their own sound. I’m not sure what I’d call it – they’re difficult to pigeon hole- but it’s a definite sound nonetheless, sort of like if Buddy Holly and Nirvana had a child.
“I Wanna Be Sure,” the first of the record’s two songs, captures Little John at their most infectious. The song has been called cute, and it is, but hey, cute is refreshing, especially in Boston’s often gloomy music scene, where tapping one’s foot is too enthusiastic a response to a live band.
You leave a Little John show smiling, humming even, and that’s not to say that these are simple three-chord ditties. Little John writes and performs well-penned songs. It’s rock, especially in a live format, but there’s no denying the artful, folk sound that permeates even the loudest and most distorted of Freeman’s guitar playing. Perhaps that’s where the cute comes in.
My personal favorite of Little John’s songs, “San Francisco,” is the record’s second. This is not some Haight-Ashbury torch song or a hippy love, flowers, peace ballad. It’s a song about leaving old worn-out ways behind and getting on with life. With its radical tempo changes, “San Francisco” is best live, but this recording does it justice.
Little John plays regularly around Boston, at the Middle East, the Tam, T.T.’s, and Bunratty’s. You can pick up their latest single at Tower Records and request their songs on WFNX, WBRS, and WMBR.