John Henry Olthoff 'Selfish Portraits' Self-Release

Another singer-songwriter in a world full of them. Maybe but there's something about Olthoff's songs and voice that help it to stand it out. There is an underlying humour alongside a certain bitterness, regret and isolation in these tales from the fringes. One song that sums that up is the stripped down Weekend In Jail - "Drove his rusted Chevy through the window of the gas station store. Filled up the backseat with beer and cigarettes 'til he couldn't fit no more, surveillance cameras saw the whole thing and when the cops came came to his door he said "when you need beer and cigarettes you'll do anything for sure". Then we he spent the weekend in jail". These songs are sung in Olthoff's downbeat nasal voice that once you get into it seems right for these tales from the other side of the tracks. Their may be a kinship to the territory covered by Willy Vlautin with Richmond Fontaine. Though Olthoff uses a full band here the two acts only have a passing similarity as both acts can be loosely be placed in the roots rock corral. The album was recorded by Frank Schiazza, who also plays lead guitar, bass and keyboards. David Ciolino-Volano is the drummer and Glenn Spivack plays some nice pedal steel touches. There are some full on songs here like the driving No Other Kind that sit easily beside the acoustic sadness of Anymore and Broken Meter or the buoyant 99 Cent Store where the protagonist wishes he "only had 20 dollars more I'd buy 20 things at the 99 cents store". The 15 songs on his latest release all have merit and while the overall mood of the writing looks toward the darker end of the street Olthoff's music is, once explored, something to savour. This New York based musician has something to say and here's where he's saying it, selfish or otherwise.