It’s been quite the journey for John Mark Thomas, starting with the release of his debut album all the way back in 2006. He’s navigated through what would eventually become three of the more generously-labeled “alternative” eras in the history of pop music to come out on the other side of things sounding a lot more focused than the majority of his peers in 2021, and this is certainly evident when listening to his all-new EP Coming Home. From its title track to “Sing (Mom’s Song),” this is a record that was designed to demonstrate his evolutionary trajectory, and to me, it hits the mark rather brilliantly.
Let’s get into some highlights here right off the bat. “Can’t Give Up” and “Give You the Stars” are, in my opinion, the most mature lyrical specimens this singer/songwriter has cut thus far in his campaign, but they nonetheless come up short in minimizing the impact of the other material on this disc. There’s an angularity to the storytelling we encounter in the aforementioned title track and “That Spark Will Never Die” that speaks to the experimental side of Thomas’ sound, and if it gets a little more development time I think it’s going to produce even more chills in his next proper LP.
I absolutely adore how much ground is covered in Coming Home for it being comprised of a mere five songs, and if there are other players in the acoustic/folk-pop genre that are wondering how to broach the task of making a solid extended play, they would do well to take a page out of Thomas’ book in the future. Without being formulaic, he finds his groove in this tracklist early on and applies what feels like the same template to a variety of different narratives and nuanced melodies – with, of course, his honeysweet voice being the linchpin throughout.
Thomas’ harmonies in “Sing (Mom’s Song),” “Give You the Stars” and “That Spark Will Never Die” are reminiscent of the legendary Paul Simon, though I would stop shy of saying that any of the songs sound like a direct throwback. There’s already plenty of nonsense coming out of the latest ‘retro’ movement to gather steam in the international underground without this quality player throwing his hat into the ring, and he rightly decides to stick with something a lot more relevant and endearing in this release (while showing off his influences simultaneously, I should add).
A brooding singer/songwriter of the finest tradition, I think it should be said that John Mark Thomas has indeed found his creative wings in Coming Home, and I don’t expect him to come down from the ensuing flight anytime soon. Everything about this EP feels like a graduation, and given just how much potential it has for bringing Thomas’ music to a much larger collection of fans and critics from around the globe, I think its title is one of the more ironic I’ve come across in a long time. He’s not retreating here; he’s blazing forward into the unknown rather bravely.