Nashville Singer-Songwriter John Shakespear Drops Poetic Debut Album
With a name fit for literary royalty and a life lived sifting through his parents’ vinyl collection, it’s fitting that John Shakespear would grow up to become not only a musician but the editor of a literary arts journal and a writer himself. On his debut solo release, Spend Your Youth, John’s careful treatment of language is clear — he merges his two creative worlds for a versatile, dreamy collection of folk-tinged tunes spun out of poetry.
Hear what John Shakespear had to say about his new album below:
Spend Your Youth opens with “First One,” a brief introduction to what we might expect from the rest of the album: the rolling hills of acoustic strums, dreamy clouds of echoing melody, and John’s emotive vocal versatility. It’s gone far too soon but it’s a sweet prelude to what comes next, the groovy, darkened “Swinging For The Fences,” many levels removed from the album’s opening delicacy but fresh in its grit and flavor as we continue to get to know John’s voice — its many tones and textures — before the arrangement turns from black-and-white to color-on-color. “Love Of Mine” is a lush lullaby, built on twangy strums before being propelled forward by shimmering smacks of percussion and John’s dreamy drone.
“Cavalier” is an instance of great instrumental ingenuity, thick bass warbles and percussive punches vibing with each other as John summons strong vocal delivery to narrate the feeling of being a sucker for someone (a theme that carries later on throughout the album, so stay tuned). On “Darkened Room,” John’s soft-folk signature turns more clearly rock-oriented with driving, sparkling indie-rock rhythms, a moment of modern anthemic folk to get lost in. The second half of Spend Your Youth finds “Light On,” the album’s most mesmeric composition. John’s voice has gone soft, drifting faintly in a haze of slow-rolling acoustic strums, trilling bass riffs, and the rise of strings in the distance. It’s as wistful as it is mystifying — the song that proves, right away, just what a gift John Shakespear has.
Things pick up again on “Wanderluster” as a steady, smacking rhythm is beat out underneath John’s delicate croon. There’s a depth to this track, like it’s bathed in shadows, but cut by a slice of the sun. On the album’s title track, John’s rapid finger-picking technique offers new texture to the dreamy arrangement. The songwriting here is a feat of great care and thought, combining all of the record’s themes — chasing youth, chasing love, chasing dreams — into one mantra-riddled ditty. When John sings “Burn as bright as you can though your heart understands / That all burning must come to an end someday,” we don’t hear the bittersweet truth of that sentiment, we hear its profundity — we hear the breathy break in John’s voice as he pleads with us to burn bright. So burn bright we shall.
On “Such A Fool,” we get another honest little love song masked in confessions of being lost in love, a sucker for suffocating in the folds of gut-punch wanting. It’s gentle, rolling in foggy layers, one of the album’s soft-folk efforts, though it gains urgency and volume with a string section towards the end. Spend Your Youth ends with “I Will Not Go Quietly,” an Americana ballad stripped-back to reveal just John, his guitar, and his poetic reflection (“You must sing any way you know how,” he urges in conclusion), aided by emotive harmony from Boston-based musician Aparna Lakshmi. Nearly forty minutes later, Spend Your Youth is complete, a hugely multi-faceted record that finds John Shakespear pairing pretty folk pieces with his own clean poetry. There’s both a lot and a little to Spend Your Youth. Listen for the detail but not too loudly — you still need to hear what hides in the quiet spaces.