John Ralston - Needle Bed (Cover Artwork)

John Ralston

John Ralston: Needle BedNeedle Bed (2006)
Vagrant Records

Reviewer Rating: 3.5

Contributed by: AnchorsAnchors
(others by this writer | submit your own)

Elliott Smith will never be replaced. He was as enigmatic and accomplished a songwriter as we've had in the last 20 years, and his inner demons were presented in such a voyeuristic yet gorgeous manner that replication would be damn near impossible. Damn near, though, not completely. You see, John.
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Elliott Smith will never be replaced. He was as enigmatic and accomplished a songwriter as we've had in the last 20 years, and his inner demons were presented in such a voyeuristic yet gorgeous manner that replication would be damn near impossible.

Damn near, though, not completely. You see, John Ralston evokes the haunting spirit of a man that left us far to soon. Some of the similarities are almost eerie. If the plaintive and whimsical sounds of "When We Are Cats" does not recall the late Elliott Smith's "Independence Day" you are simply not listening.

At the very root of both their sounds are the wistful, but highly emotive vocals that form a gorgeous tapestry atop the subtle rhythms of acoustic guitar. It's a simple formula, one that has been used for years upon years, but rarely can so little be used to make so much. It comes down to bare emotion laid down in lyric and voice, and Ralston not only understands this, but uses it to the absolute fullest. Most tracks are between the two and three-minute range, and even those restraints don't so much as quell Ralston's ability to pack a lot into a short amount of time. "I Believe in Ghosts" displays not only this ability to work in brief durations, but the ability to work in a bit quicker of a tempo. His morose delivery works just as well in a bouncy rhythm as one that includes only light plucking of the strings on his acoustic guitar.

"Gone, Gone, Gone" combines the best of both those worlds for Ralston, and it finds him in as comfortable a state as playing either of those styles separately. The verses are where his more mellow side is accompanied by some gorgeous backing strings, and the chorus is where he spreads his wings and vocal chords just the same, displaying some of the reserved power he'd been holding back on before that. As mentioned earlier, though, it's the comfort that's most endearing. He's not straining or yearning for notes just beyond reach, he's using both his strengths in one finely pieced together exposition, and it speaks volumes.

There will never be another Elliott Smith, and I'm not going to sit here and trivialize his life or death by saying John Ralston has even slightly taken his place. What he has done, however, is record a terrific album in that very same vein, and I for one will be eager to see where he goes from here.


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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
SilentStorms (February 1, 2007)

It was a little too country tinged for me. I like his first full length and suicide the best. Score is for those albums.

Scruffy (January 31, 2007)

Rocky's a lot closer to Ryan Adams' sound than Smith's. You didn't like Makers? That album is phenomenal.

SilentStorms (January 30, 2007)

My opinion is that Rocky Votolato is the new Elliot Smith. Done. Score's for Rocky ... but not the new album.

Scruffy (January 29, 2007)

Seriously? Ralston was in Legends Of Rodeo? Might have to check this out.

badmouth (January 28, 2007)

You really got balls calling Elliott a one trick pony, nice of you to show your name while doing it

robdobi (January 27, 2007)

ps. ralston used to be in a band called legends of rodeo.

Anonymous (January 27, 2007)

Smith was a one trick pony who was polished to a great extent by experienced producers. There's no denying his incredible voice and lyrics, but it took those producers (and a movie) to break him to the mainstream and turn his frail indie folk into something stellar. Ralston's record is self-produced and a much deeper first offering than Smith's first solo record.

It's like comparing Kobe Bryant's first year to Michael Jordan's career. Ralston will come into his own, and has already bested Smith in his first year.

badmouth (January 26, 2007)

bad comparison to elliot smith, i think the best band to compare to elliott smith is someone still loves you boris yeltsin

Anonymous (January 26, 2007)

"Gone Gone Gone" sounds like a less awesome version of "Motorcycle Driveby" by Third Eye Blind.

Anonymous (January 26, 2007)

haven't heard the whole disc, but from his website it seems like this guy channels quite a bit more from the first two dashboard confessional albums than from any elliott smith record...

Anonymous (January 26, 2007)

Score is for Elliott Smith. Yeah, I said it.

robdobi (January 26, 2007)

if you really want to hear someone channeling the ghost of elliott smith listen to arms and legs.


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