WITH his greying beard, there is something of the Old Testament prophet about Ethan Johns, which suits the apocalyptic tone of a song like The Sun Hardly Rises with images of devastation and barbed references to "big six profits" continuing to rise as people freeze.
So after that, something a little more cheerful might be in order, you might think.
"I would say things are going to lighten up — but I’d be lying," Johns warned.
Not that this was an evening of doom and gloom. Far from it.
Super-producer Johns’ own music nods towards Americana, either gritty blues played on the electric guitar or more reflective songs on the acoustic played with some gentle backing from his double bass player or some electronic embellishments from his lap top.
These are the sort of songs you could easily imagined being covered — yes, they were that strong — by Johnny Cash in his later Rick Rubin produced phase or making it on to British equivalent, Tom Jones’ Praise and Blame album. An album produced by one Ethan Johns.
It would not rate as his favourite album, however. Nor any of the other albums he has produced for his A-list clientele, including Paul McCartney, Ryan Adams, Laura Marling, etc.
Johns is firmly from the school that believes his favourite album is not one you have made, but the one you are going to.
"God forbid you ever make a perfect record — you’d just stop," he said.
Punctuating his set with drily witty introductions, Johns gave every indication of a man out to enjoy his low key Highland tour, even when a persistent electronic bleep bled into the upstairs performance at The Ironworks to his evident irritation.
On the plus side, the intimate Ironworks 2 room made for a warm — in more ways than one — and friendly setting and a bit of banter between artist and audience.
The latter might have been relative modest, but there was certainly a sense that these were real music devotees and not just drawn by Johns’ celeb connections — even if only a couple answered in the affirmative when Johns gently quizzed his listeners as to whether any had his first album.
He responded to the answer with good humour rather than disappoint: "You’re the one who bought it — I wondered who that was."
He also brought some of his acquired wisdom from the studio floor, suggesting that the way to happiness was to make your passion your hobby and not sully it with any financial interest at all, undercutting the warning with a self-depreciating chastisement that: "I sound like my dad."
Johns, on the other hand, seems to have the balance right. His job may be music, but certainly seemed to be enjoying his sabbatical from the studio, an enjoyment shared by his audience.