After more than five years of blogging about music – which enables me to learn about a least a few new artists or bands literally every day – I’m still surprised when I discover an artist who’s been putting out superb music for several years that I knew nothing about. Just goes to show how many talented artists and bands exist out there, making some really great music. One such artist is British singer-songwriter and guitarist Jono McCleery, who’s latest single “Call Me” – which dropped October 23rd – has captured my attention. He also released a beautiful accompanying video for the track on October 29th.
Based in London, McCleery was deaf until the age of four, unable to perceive any acoustic stimuli. But when he turned 11, he picked up a guitar for the first time and took to it immediately. He eventually became part of the lively London “underground” and a member of One Taste Collective (OTC), a project founded in 2004 to support musicians and poets of all styles. Some of the artists who emerged through the collective include Little Dragon, Jamie Woon, Kate Tempest and the Portico Quartet, all of whom McCleery has worked with.
As I do with all artists and bands I write about for the first time, I checked out McCleery’s back catalog of music – which is pretty extensive – to get a feel for his sound and style. After listening to quite a few of his songs, I can unequivocally state that I love his music. He plays an incredibly pleasing style of what I’d loosely call contemporary folk, though many songs feature elements of electronica, world music, shoegaze, dreampop, soul and jazz. His music is characterized by captivating melodies, lush but understated instrumentation and his warm, soothing vocals in a style that to my ears is reminiscent of such artists as Sufjan Stevens and James Blake.
His first release, in 2008, was his self-produced debut album Darkest Light, a collection of eight lovely acoustic folk tracks. He followed in 2011 with There Is, a stunning, more experimental work with a greater emphasis on world, electronic and jazzy elements, and featuring collaborations with renowned artists Fink and Vashti Bunyon. One of the album’s tracks, a mesmerizing cover of Black’s 1986 hit “Wonderful Life”, has been streamed more than 3.6 million times on Spotify.
2015 saw the release of his third album Pagodes, another beautiful work that received widespread acclaim. Deutschland Funk called it “a stroke of genius”, while Rolling Stone described it as a “flawless album”. And in 2018, he released Seeds of a Dandelion, a marvelous album of covers in which McCleery re-interpreted songs like Roy Davis Jr.’s dance classic “Gabriel”, the Cocteau Twins’ “Know Who You Are at Every Age”, Atoms For Peace’s “Ingenue” and Beyonce’s “Halo”, an enchanting track which has been streamed over 8.8 million times on Spotify. Webzine Line of Best Fit called the album “a strong collection of songs, made with the upmost respect for its inspirations.”
Now he returns with “Call Me”, the second single from his forthcoming fifth album Here I Am and There You Are, set for release on November 20th via the Ninety Days Records label. The album, which McCleery recorded in just four days with the help of a few musician friends, is an homage to the Afro-American jazz musician Terry Callier, who died in 2012. I’ve had an advance listen of the album, and it’s every bit as stunning as his previous works. “Call Me” was written and sung by McCleery, who also played guitar. Supporting musicians include Steve Pringle on keyboards, Milo Fitzpatrick on bass and Dan See on drums. Production and mixing was done by Brett Cox, and mastering by Emil Van Steenswijk.
The song touches on the struggles of separation and finding inner strength. McCleery explained his inspiration for the song: “When I revisited the song before recording the album, I decided to dedicate a verse to Terry Callier’s song ‘Dancing Girl’, and these are his lyrics: ‘I saw a dream last night, bright like a falling star, and the sources of light seemed so near, yet so far. I thought I was in flight out where the planets are, moving between day and night. Here I am, and there you are.’ And then more recently whilst listening to the album recordings as quietly as possible, that line ‘here I am and there you are’ stood out. And I decided to use it for the album title.“
The song has an enchanting, almost jazzy vibe that’s at once melancholy and beautiful. McCleery’s gently strummed guitar, accompanied by subtle bass and the softest of toe-tapping beats, immediately draws us in, and once he begins singing the poetic lyrics in his soothing vocals, we’re more than eager to follow along. The instrumentals become more lively and his vocals more earnest in the choruses, and I love the haunting little piano chords that enter halfway into the track.
The gorgeous video was produced by France-based screenwriter and videographer Giovanni Di Legami, and features clips from his movie Idem, starring actors Roxane Colson and Jean Yann Verton.