“You say drinking from my cup feeds your soul/ Fills you up/ If drinking from my cup makes you whole/ Then why did you stop?” croons Cape Town folk musician Jonathan Velthuysen gently on “Holly (You Gotta Wonder)”. His almost puzzled delivery of the last line is moving, as if through his subtle probing, he is trying to make sense of the unexpected end of a relationship.
It is piercingly personal lyrics like this that take centre stage on Velthuysen’s debut album Johannine and for his first offering, the man who goes by the name of The Hollow Body has put together a collection of songs that is stripped down of all pretence and treated, instead, with layers of intensely personal reflection.
Together with his scratchy, sometimes nasal voice and the sparse musical accompaniment provided by the warm, rollicking strum of his guitar, Velthuysen delivers an album that will more than delicately tickle the fancy of folk lovers.
The thing is, Velthuysen’s lyrics aren’t just unabashedly honest. They are delicately crafted words of poetry too and he uses this songwriting process to purge himself of all the things that life has thrown at him.
“Hymnal Retreat” is a tender elegy written for Velthuysen’s father who passed away some years ago. The uncluttered intro sees him admitting that he is weighed down by the sorrow that he carries on his shoulders and the misery on his brow and that he doesn’t know if he can move forward. His solution? “And maybe someday/ Through these lullabies/ I’ll see clearly my way back home,” he intones gingerly before the track becomes more jaunty as the pace quickens.
On “For Tonight”, Velthuysen’s voice echoes that of The Tallest Man on Earth as he sings about the intoxicating and sometimes dangerous hold that someone can have on you, while on “Don’t Mistake It”, he lowers his voice to a soft, low purr that breaks into an impassioned plea at the climax.
Johannine is the kind of album that you want to listen to in a steaming bath with a glass of wine. It’s the kind of album that stops being just a collection of songs as it begs you to engage with it. It’s the kind of album that allows you to mould your own meaning around this phrasing or that guitar growl. In fact, it’s the best kind of album.
Photos: Hendro van der Merwe