John Lilly
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John Lilly

Charleston, West Virginia, United States | INDIE

Charleston, West Virginia, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Acoustic


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"Haunted Honky Tonk review"

John Lilly "Haunted Honky Tonk" (Independent 2007)

Aptly titled work successfully conjures the spirit

One of the contributing pleasures to a love of Americana is its sense of history, as if the phantoms of a forgotten age are seeping out through the music. Thus, the title of this album possesses a knowing romanticism and it’s pleasing to discover that the music contained within does it justice. John Lilly edits a magazine devoted to ‘West Virginia traditional life’ and there is always a danger that the take of such enthusiasts on a genre will be overly desiccated, an act of lifeless preservation rather than celebration. Yet whilst there is certainly an air of fidelity here, it is never staid or sentimental.

The ghost of Hank Williams looms large throughout, with covers of songs by the man himself and Jimmie Rodgers barely distinguishable from the original material on show. Lilly’s voice, however, is most reminiscent of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, particularly his original work with the Flatlanders. It resonates beautifully over the stripped down backing, dominated primarily by acoustic guitar and fiddle with some fine harmony vocals from Ginny Hawker. The redoubtable Bill Kirchen adds electric twang to a couple of tracks but even these contributions are spare, allowing plenty of room for the songs to breathe.

Of course, the song-writing is more than fit to stand alone, each piece a lovingly crafted evocation brimming with melodic and lyrical integrity. The title track in particular is as atmospheric as you’d expect, lacking only a musical saw for full effect. Just once does Lilly falter, with the song ‘Roadkill,’ a witty lyric but which in this live take slips into self-indulgence. Certainly Lilly offers little in the way of radical innovation but it is difficult to conceive of another album which offers such profound authenticity and depth of feeling.

Date review added: Friday, December 21, 2007
Reviewer: Kai Roberts
Reviewers Rating:

- Americana UK

"Haunted Honky Tonk review"

John Lilly
Haunted Honky Tonk
(Independent 2007)

December 14, 2007 by Don Zelazny

His artistic talents are on display with his latest CD titled Haunted Honky Tonk. This 14-song CD includes 10 brilliantly written songs by Lilly. These songs, and Lilly’s traditional approach, are what is missing in country music today. You can feel the passion in Lilly’s voice as he plays his acoustic guitar singing “I’m Paying Now” and “Pave My Grave.” His simplicity in style and sound captures the listener, allowing them to sit back and enjoy the music. Either one of these songs could stand alone as a hit back in the heyday of Hank Sr.
As a salute to his country heroes, Lilly includes two outstanding covers. The first one is the Jimmie Rodgers classic “Whippin that Old T.B.” Lilly later sings Hank Sr.’s “I Can’t Escape from You.” Lilly does a very good job vocally on each of these, not over-singing and allowing the lyrics to speak to the listener, just as they were intended by the legends themselves.

Lilly lightens the mood with the very clever song “Roadkill.” This song is a humorous take from the perspective of a deer trapped in the headlights of love, only to end up as “roadkill on the highway to your heart.” It is recorded live at one of his performances, in order to share the enjoyment with others while listening along. The varied ending on the song, wrapping it up by mixing in classics such as “I Fall to Pieces” and “On the Road Again” adds to the fun.

The instrumentals on this CD add to the quality. Bill Kirchen plays electric guitar on “Who Broke the DJ’s Heart” and the driving “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.” Buddy Griffin does an outstanding job on fiddle throughout. On the classic “Groundhog,” Lilly not only provides vocals, but plays a mean mandolin as well.

This is a fun country CD, provided by someone who understands what country music is all about. Lilly delivers in every possible way, keeping alive the dream that country music still lives.

- Americana Roots

"Haunted Honky Tonk review"

Hats off to John Lilly for a nigh-on perfect record; for a man with one of the most unassuming stage presences in planet showbiz he is the most astonishingly assured performer. In thrall to Jimmy Rodgers and Hank Williams, and a past winner of the Ghost Writers in The Sky in the style of Hank Williams song writing competition, this album is in fact packed with John Lilly originals that are just wonderful. Unashamedly but un-stuffily old-timey, John's songs liberate Hank from the museum that has grown around him and make him the progenitor of a style that lives anew. I remember some sleeve notes of Mike Nesmith's back in the 70's that said his highest ambition was to approach the simplicity and purity of Jimmy Rodger's and Hank Williams' writing. Well, John Lilly is there, and it's just sheer joy for a country fan to soak it all in. His voice will remind you of Jimmy or Hank, but also of Jimmy Dale Gilmore, whilst his guitar playing combines precision and feeling exquisitely.

Supporting roles are taken (mostly) by Buddy Griffin on fiddle and Ginny Hawker on backing vocals, but also include contributions from Chris Stewart, Janet Beazley (Back Country) Bill Kirchens (Commander Cody) Chuck Campbell (The Campbell Brother) all bringing considerable musical sensitivity to their performances. An object lesson on why less is often more, there's a lifetime's musical experience brought to bear on this record, and it's one for us lucky music fans to treasure.

John Davy November 2007
- Net Rhythms

"Last Chance to Dance review"

Best-kept American roots musical secret? , November 21, 2003

Only the vagaries of American corporate music can explain why you don't already know this CD by heart. "Last Chance to Dance" debuted at #1 in September 2003 on the Freeform American Roots chart (where the DJ's choose their favorite new roots releases) and it's easy to hear why. On it, John Lilly sets out to honor and contribute to the great tradition of American folk dance - and he does - but he can't help but veer back into the dark and lonesome territory that made 2000's "Broken Moon" such a stunning solo debut. On the new album, however, he demonstrates the full range of his talent as instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter, and interpreter of the American folk tradition, exploring not only his previous themes of love, heartbreak and redemption, but also traditional country themes of home, the loss of family, and growing older. It's a tribute to his talent that all this adds up to a diverse and, yes, upbeat collection of music.

His spare and clean instrumental performances on guitar, mandolin and bass, are outstanding, as before, with an even greater diversity of styles; so are the lead and harmony vocals. But while the earlier album gave only a tantalizing sample of what he can do as a songwriter, LCTD really shines as a songwriting showcase. Of special note are the opening track, "Whodunnit?" which gives the appearance of a throwaway novelty number, but which in fact is an intense musical and lyrical display of jealousy and suspicion, and "Blue Boy", which is in the great tradition of the country torch song, and deserves to become a standard.

Other favorite cuts are the two great yodeling songs, Jimmie Rodgers' "No Hard Times" and Lilly's own comic original "A Little Yodel Goes a Long Way" (recorded live), great examples of the American country yodeling tradition. (See also his performance of Hank Williams' "Pan American" on "Southern Ramble" by Ralph Blizard and the New Southern Ramblers.) The world-weary and fervid arrangement and performance of the traditional "Long Time Traveling" are also haunting and memorable, as is the Hazel Dickens' classic, "Coal Miner's Grave". The title song and "Good News, Bad News" are some other engaging cuts, but really, there are too many to name: listen and pick your own favorites!

Appearing again on this CD are the same group of collaborators who made "Broken Moon" so memorable: the great Ginny Hawker on harmony vocals, Buddy Griffin on fiddle (who ranges from the heartbreaking to the sardonic), with the addition of Sonny Landreth on slide guitar. David O'Dell returns, this time providing some great banjo as well as doing the recording and mixing.

This album should be of great interest not only to American roots music purists, who are looking for the next Gillian Welch or Iris DeMent, but also to those fans of contemporary country and folk songwriter/performers such as Robbie Fulks and Fred Eaglesmith. However, I am reminded as well of many older country and folk-based performers: not only the obvious influences of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, but also the subsequent generation of writer/performers such as John Prine and Steve Goodman, who are both whimsical and profound. In addition, fans of Richard Thompson will admire both Lilly's instrumental virtuosity and the intensity and humor with which he plumbs old genres and makes them new. Once again, a must-have!

- customer review

"Last Chance to Dance review"

Last Chance to Dance by John Lilly

Sing Out! Vol. 47 #4 Winter 2004

It's been three long years since John Lilly released a CD. However, like anything beautifully crafted, this album is well worth waiting for.

In 2000, Lilly's Broken Moon , featuring Ginny Hawker's harmonies, was released to general acclaim. Here, a powerhouse of superb session musicians accompany Lilly, with Hawker providing harmony on four tracks.

With a voice that sounds like it could have belonged to several country greats, Lilly's singing is in no way mannered like those who try imitating various personalities in songs. Here, instead, we have a masterly musician with a naturally honky-tonkin' voice used judiciously and to great effect in crafting a unique style. In no way are these songs note-for-note lifts from their original performers, but they're all so well done that most listeners will be disappointed when the CD ends.

Fully half the songs on this 14-track recording were written by Lilly. These may have been written with apparently simple swing or honky-tonk tunes, but the sometimes-complex arrangements tell us that Lilly knows exactly what he's doing. Six of the other seven are fairly well known traditional and country songs. One very unusual inclusion is Lilly's cover of Rod Stewart's “Gasoline Alley.” With its Hank-like vocal and masterly mandolin, it may well deserve a place on that short list of “better than the original” recordings.

Lilly's songs appear as simple as Hank Williams' and, like Hank's, have a propensity for ingratiating themselves on first or second hearing – instant classics. The opening number, “Whodunit? (Who Stole Your Heart Away?),” should soon become the backdrop for the next lonely Saturday night.

All in all, John Lilly's second CD is a worthy follow-up to Broken Moon and tells us that he's a performer with talent, heart, and an uncanny ability to extend the country music metaphor to include contemporary sentiments. Highly recommended. - MC

- Sing Out!

"Last Chance to Dance review"

John Lilly “Last Chance to Dance”

A wonderful mix of old-time ballads, early country, and original songs that sound and feel as old as the early ones. The musicianship is as good as you'll hear anywhere – the lead and harmony vocals are among the best I have ever heard. The yodeling on “No Hard Times” would make Jimmie Rodgers proud. “Last Chance to Dance” reminded me of early rockabilly Sun Records recordings – it's great.

Wonderful compilation of music. The guitar accompaniment on the ballads shows great feeling and only enhances the words. I could go on, but this is an exceptional recording of the old, not so old, and new.

— John Blisard, Jurying Evaluation/ September 1, 2003

Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia (retail store), Beckley, West Virginia

- Tamarack

"Last Chance to Dance comments"

What they're saying about "Last Chance to Dance"

· "Taps the essence of Americana" - Jenny Haubenreiser/KGLT/Bozeman, MT

· "I can't believe how great this is!" - Paul Hitchcock/WMKY/Morehead, KY

· "Nice to hear something so fresh, yet so familiar" - David Obermann/KUT/Austin, TX

· "Touches you like a freight train. A pure gem" - James Eoppolo/WXTU/Philadelphia, PA

· "Has a certain drive I look for in music" - Michael Dixon/WRBC/Lewiston, ME

· "Cultural concentrate with an emotional sauce" - Mike Penard/ISA Radio/Milieu, France

· "At times I really thought it was Hank or Willie singing. This guy is THAT GOOD!" - Harris/Customer review/

- Various

"Broken Moon Review"

Review of Broken Moon

Stark and beautiful, April 19, 2002 - 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewer: eafinct from West Hartford, CT United States

John Lilly ranges from cowboy ballads to Primitive Baptist hymns to Tin Pan Alley and back, all with spare but pristine accompaniment on guitar, mandolin and fiddle, and with harmonies on some cuts by the remarkable Ginny Hawker. The genres and rhythms on the album may be varied, but the overall consistency in instrumentation and delivery give it an amazing cohesion. The careful arrangement of songs on the disc, too, produce a song cycle which is a musical and spritual journey from heartbreak and disappointment to solace and redemption -- with a dash of humor and yodeling for good measure.

Be sure to check out the title cut, "Broken Moon", which deserves to become a classic heartbreak ballad alongside Bob Wills and Hank Williams standards, as well as "I've Always Been a Rambler", which is delivered with a fierceness and intensity which gives a startling immediacy to this traditional self-justifying gambler's lament. And the closing original, "Spirit (Bend Close to Me)" should find a place both in churches and in your own personal collection of music to get you through the night.

Fans of Jimmie Rodgers, Hazel Dickens, Hank Williams Sr., and the Stanley Brothers should be sure to take note; fans of contemporary Americana music will not be disappointed. And if there is any justice in the universe, the folks whose ears have been opened by the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack will have a chance to enjoy another example of acoustic music from the first half of the 20th century embodied in a contemporary voice. Very highly recommended!

"Broken Moon Comments"

"Who knows whether 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?' can translate into sales for other music in this genre, but if anyone deserves a degree of success, it's John Lilly." -- Lonesome Highway; Dublin, Ireland

"John Lilly's mountain-soaked voice comes pouring out of the speakers clear and strong. Like its been aging in a Mason jar." -- The Herald-Dispatch; Huntington, WV

- Various


CD "Cold Comfort" (2011)
CD "John Lilly Live on Red Barn Radio" (2010)
CD "Haunted Honky Tonk" (2007)
CD "Last Chance to Dance" (2005)
CD "Blue Highway" w/Ralph Blizard (2003)
CD "Broken Moon" (2000)

On NPR Music/Mountain Stage at

Song "Explosion in the Fairmount Mines" on CD "Always Lift Him Up: A Tribute to Blind Alfred Reed" (2006) plus YouTube video



John Lilly is a multi-talented acoustic music performer from Charleston, West Virginia, specializing in Americana, country roots, and traditional folk music. He writes new songs that sound as old as the hills, and performs older songs like they were made yesterday. According to one reviewer, “If Hank Williams had a sunny disposition, he’d be John Lilly.”

Recognized widely as a powerful performing songwriter, John is the 2010 acoustic winner of the "Next Great Road Song" contest, sponsored my Midas and Spin for his original song "Come and Go." In 2005, he won the national Ghost Writers In the Sky songwriting contest, sponsored by HankFest, a Chicago-based festival honoring the music of Hank Williams. John won a customized guitar for his original song “Blue Highway.” He was a finalist in the 2002 Chris Austin Songwriting Competition at MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, chosen from 853 entries and placing third in the Country category for his song "Broken Moon." John Lilly’s 2008 Mountain Stage radio performance is available at NPR Music. He has traveled extensively, including 48 states and three tours of Scotland.

John has released six self-produced CDs. Both "Cold Comfort" and “Haunted Honky Tonk” achieved the #1 position on the Freeform American Roots (FAR) chart and top 5 in the Euro Americana radio charts. “Broken Moon,” released in 2000, earned enthusiastic reviews and widespread radio airplay. Bluegrass Unlimited magazine called it one of the “most unusual and interesting acoustic disks of the year.” John’s second CD, “Last Chance to Dance,” released in 2003, debuted at #1 on the FAR radio chart and rose to #4 on the Euro Americana radio chart. His 2005 CD release, “Blue Highway,” is a collaboration with legendary Tennessee fiddler Ralph Blizard. "John Lilly Live on Red Barn Radio," released in 2010, features Lilly in an intimate solo setting.

John is a former member of the Green Grass Cloggers dance team. He spent years playing traditional string band music with groups including Ralph Blizard and the New Southern Ramblers, is a former a tour guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, and is currently editor of West Virginia’s Goldenseal magazine.