The best songwriters make you feel like you did when you were a child looking into a mirror. You react by reaching out, trying to touch the reflected image. Only when your fingers reach the glass do you realize that the image is you. Great songs are like a mirror in that the song, like a reflected image, no longer is the experience of the writer, but the experience of the listener. On this recording, Johnson raises his hand and touches you on the other side of the glass here, letting you experience the world through his verse and music.
Johnson is a recently transplanted L.A. pop songwriter who gained a sizable reputation in New York with his release Twelve In A Room, a warm, personal scrapbook of material expressed mostly with basic guitar and vocals. This is a path few take because of the exposure laid to the bare structure of the songs. Like Twelve…, this release is done sparsely because the songs require nothing more than the melody, chords and vocal. Johnson is in the truly professional songwriting class of Jules Shear and Marshall Crenshaw to give you a frame of reference.
From the “Across The Universe” vibe on the opener “dreaming”, to the pure pop of “eyes,” to the Dylan-esque “skinny boy,” to the Roy Orbison-sounding “those pretty things,” and to the Paul Simon “Old Friends”-sounding “asia major,” Johnson utilizes simple song structure with strong melody. A standout track is “concrete lullaby” written with another great contemporary Willie Nile. Aspiring writers should take note of Johnson’s use of the entire melodic range of the key he is writing in by his use of descending melody and modulation (or key change) in “concrete lullaby”. It is a real textbook creative example of great writing. “so wonderful” has an ABBA, ‘70s European pop feel with an Al Stewart vocal. “suddenly sunshine” is very solo McCartney/Emitt Rhodes. He knocks off with ease a Buddy Holly-esque, Marshall Crenshaw style track on “lovin’ goes feelin”.
More succinctly, he is a master of most any style of quality songwriting.
If the music business comes back to the art of the song and its writer, Johnson will be on the short list of those that they will call. Until then, listen to this and try to remember what it was like to be a child looking into a mirror. Johnson’s material is like your reflected image: even though it’s Johnson singing and playing, he lets you see, sing and hear through him. You are him, and he is you, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. There really isn’t more that you can do as a writer. Great stuff.
// Notes from the Road
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