I naturally met JJ Smith at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola a couple years back. Kilted in the tartan of the Lamont clan, JJ runs a show that is not just a folk music performance but a bit comedic shtick as well. His crowd-interactions make for some of the evening’s high points.
JJ’s style stands out from the majority of the singers I’ve met on the Irish pub tour in several ways. To begin with, his personalized renditions of the classics reveal significant blues, and American country music influences, which bring the Celtic style home to the American South. Live, JJ makes use of a lot of bass runs on his guitar which often helps to add a subtlety and a sense of motion outside of the songs’ basic chord structures.
JJ hails from Stonehaven, near Aberdeen, Scotland, but has resided in St. Petersburg, Florida for the past several years. While in the States, he has steadily toured the southeast and managed to produce two album releases: Druid Roots Going Home, and his solo album JJ The Balladeer. They’re both great and very distinct from each other.
Druid Roots was a trio JJ was a part of, a rather eclectic mix of folksy styles. The album projects a heavy Celtic theme with very noticeable elements of East-Indian drumming, country-western music, and a hint of rock and roll. My favorite track is Stonehaven Waltz, a traditional sounding Celtic ballad, but the whole album is worth the listen.
The Balladeer contains 15 tracks of excellently produced Celtic ballads. JJ’s resounding baritone voice coupled with the full and sometimes booming open strings of his guitar create layers of richness within each song. The songs are mostly mellow, somewhat nostalgic pieces. The highlights include Galway Shawl (my personal favorite); a cover of the classic U2 hit I Still Haven’t Found what I’m looking For; and Whiskey on a Sunday.