I’m sure that many of you have heard of the likes of Andy McKee, who became something of a YouTube sensation after posting a video of him performing his original song “Drifting.” He utilized a number of techniques, previously unknown to most of the world, that work to use the guitar to its full potential as a multi-purpose instrument. Popularized by guitarists such as Preston Reed and Michael Hedges, such a technique, often referred to as “percussive fingerstyle,” uses both hands to draw out percussive sounds from the instrument through sharp hits on the strings and the body of the guitar itself. Songs written in this style often use alternate tunings, giving the musician virtually limitless possibilities for note placement, along with the use of harmonic overtones to create higher pitches.
Similar to Andy McKee in style is the lesser-known but equally-talented Jon Gomm. Originally hailing from Lancashire, England, he has released two full studio albums to date and has been touring since 2004. Although it is definitely easy to see the influences from McKee and other virtuoso guitarists, Gomm sets himself apart from his contemporaries with his incredibly diverse and unique blend of musical styles. Described as a “one man melting pot,” he exhibits a mastery of a wide range of styles on Don’t Panic, his latest studio album. Folk, jazz, rock, blues, country, and even metal – they’re all represented on the album. And did I mention that the second verse on the opening track, “Waterfall,” is sung entirely in Urdu?
On the whole, Don’t Panic has a very indie, do-it-yourself kind of sound to it. The recordings maintain all the quality necessary for such raw acoustic guitar music, but there is very little effects processing. For someone like Jon Gomm, who rejects the commercial music industry by releasing his music independently and scheduling his tours with grassroots promoters, this is a very logical method of doing things, and one that creates an acutely honest presentation. Every song on the album features only a single guitar track, a feat which becomes increasingly more difficult to comprehend with each additional listen. Gomm is the epitome of a one-man band; he covers the intricate guitar melodies, bass lines, percussion, and vocals all at the same time. He has succeeded in cultivating a rare combination of musical talents and using it to produce uniquely creative and immensely well-thought-out music.
In the words of Jon Gomm himself, “Every time I arrange a new guitar part I make sure I can’t play it without practice. I love the technical aspect as much as the creative process of songwriting, although they are very much separate affairs.” This is a truly heartening statement to hear as a listener and fan of his music. This is a man who is constantly looking to improve his craft and delve deeper into the roots of his music. Along with his trusty sidekick Wilma (his guitar), Gomm is a profoundly positive source of energy in the musical world, inspiring rising musicians and gratifying appreciative fans.
As I mentioned earlier, Don’t Panic is packed full with a multitude of diverse musical influences. As a result, Gomm is able to keep the listener’s rapt attention throughout the entire album, a goal that is not often accomplished with a solo guitar album. Songs such as “Temporary” and “Loveproof” serenade you with a certain seductive sweetness, while others such as “Afterglow” and “Surrender” give a rawer sound, influenced heavily by rock and blues, respectively. On top of that is a song like “The Weather Machine,” a fascinating fusion somewhere between flamenco and metal that shows the world that Jon Gomm can shred with the best of them.
For fans of other percussive fingerstyle players, or just the acoustic guitar in general, Don’t Panic is a necessary investment. It does an incredible job of advancing the genre and continuing in the footsteps of the previous generation of virtuosos. I will personally be keeping a close eye out for more releases from Jon Gomm in the future, as I am confident that he will only continue to get better.