In his debut EP, Lone City Lights, unsigned North Londoner artist River Child proves that it’s cool to be un-cool. With an organic, anti-overproduction disposition, the singer-songwriter encapsulates all that made the Greenwich Village scene an ironically booming success in the 1960s. The former boxer goes for the knock-out punch by opting for the power of a storyteller’s vocal weaving through a lyric over a stripped-back instrumentation. His work is no-nonsense, zero-frills indie folk very much near its purest point, with a couple of individualized touches tossed into the mix for good measure.
Not unlike Dylan or Van Ronk material of the folk genre’s golden era, Lone City Lights wears brutal honesty as its wisest, strongest, and most palpable asset. River Child summons a lilt to his croon as he delivers the chorus of EP opener and titular track, ‘Lone City Lights’, making for the first of many quotable phrases from out of proceedings: “No one can hear you when you cry under the lone city lights.” The forthright and candid lyricism is met by a rollicking fusion of instrumentation choices and melody, striking a sprightly, wistful, and sometimes sardonic tune when met with River Child’s gloomily nostalgic writing and vocal delivery.
The remaining three tracks from off of the Lone City Lights EP maintain varying degrees of greatness, all encapsulated within the same general formula of an amalgamation of honest lyricism and a sensible arrangement. There are a few unexpected sonic thrills to be had, such as in the reverb-conscious tinges of ethereal falsetto and some Americana-flavored electric guitar licks on ‘Star Over Again’, and the R.E.M.-esque feel of ‘Days Like This’. Furthermore, ‘Just Need Your Love’ proves itself to be a fine closer, with light piano intonation highlighting the mildly playful nature of the track on its chorus.
Overall, however, River Child has maintained a simple battle plan for the development of his first EP: form something catchy, though not at the exemption of knowledgeable songwriting. For someone so seemingly the exact carbon portrait of the anti-mainstream, River Child sure knows how to teach the scene a thing or two by inhabiting its world from the point of radio-ready singles. On the flipside of things, though, he is purely and unabashedly folk to his very core.
Words: Jonathan Frahm