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Will Johnson

Scorpion

(Undertow Music/Thirty Tigers; US: 11 Sep 2012; UK: 11 Sep 2012)

The best music is meant to be transformative. Not that it changes us, but that it changes itself from the steel of string and wood and wire of instrument into sound which sublimates into feeling. So it’s no wonder that Will Johnson, who transforms so often himself, is capable of such alchemy. He fronts South San Gabriel and Centro-matic. He’s played with Jandek. He’s recorded an album with Jason Molina and recorded Woody Guthrie tunes with Jay Farrar and Jim James and Anders Parker. And he’s also put together a solo career, and Scorpion, his third solo outing, is his best album yet, maybe from any of his projects. These songs, written and recorded from the ground up in-studio, sound fittingly exploratory, with Johnson shedding light into the dark corners of these songs with his lyrics.


The album balances hope and ache perfectly, as on opener “You Will Be Here, Mine” which is both sweetly pensive and a clear-eyed declaration, with Johnson’s bittersweet voice gliding over the rattle of brittle guitars and deep-in-thegut drums. The impressive “Bloodkin Push (Forget the Ones)” shape-shifts and builds on Johnson’s spacious chord phrasings and ethereal piano and sets up later standouts like the title track and “Truss of Ten”. These songs stretch out without going slack, and Johnson is the perfect, solitary storyteller. His voice, all rasp under its honeyed tone, is like a settling house—each creak and groan tells a tale, reveals a secret hidden away. And so it is with Scorpion, an album of patient songs that reward in new ways with each listen. You have only to brush through the top layer, through the sandy grit, and let the songs you find hit you with their sweet, potent sting.

Rating:

Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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Will Johnson - You Will Be Here, Mine
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