Sunny summer sweetness, with just a touch of melancholy.
Freedy Johnston has a 30 year music career behind him, during which time he has garnered praise and love from critics and musical peers. He nonetheless remains something of a hidden talent, and that’s a shame, because once his music is discovered, it is clear just how much there is to like.
“Back On The Road To You” is Johnston’s 9th studio album, and yet there is a freshness and airiness to the record that makes it sound more like a debut. Johnston has the lightest and most inoffensive of tenor voices, and yet, it suits the songs and the music perfectly; as collaborator and genius songwriter Aimee Mann notes, “there’s something so matter of fact and plaintive… (it’s) incredibly compelling”.
One song after another flies by with the most unassuming quality, and initially it is the easy-going rhythms and super catchy melodies that hook you in; but like all the best pop music, it gradually dawns that there is a depth under these songs, as effortless as they sound. Doubts and uncertainties lurk beneath the sunniest confections, whether that is the odd reflection on loving an automated girlfriend in ‘Madeleine’s Eye’ (“Looking in Madeleine’s eye, I see her settings are off by a mile”), or the intrinsic sadness of ‘Darlin’ (“He’s gone and it’s not your fault, he could not live because he could not stop”).
Musically, there is a gorgeous sheen throughout, not too overblown, just enough to show the quality within, and reflected by being joined by the likes of the aforementioned Mann (‘Darlin’) and Susannah Hoffs (‘That’s Life‘), while lead and steel guitar is supplied by Doug Pettibone. It is sumptuous stuff – check out the soaring ‘Trick of The Light’, for example, which sounds as if it could have been a mid-60’s hit for the likes of the Monkees or the Mamas and the Papas.
This is a gorgeous collection of guitar jangling summery pop music, with a slightly retro feel – shades of Matthew Sweet, Crowded House and Nick Lowe can be heard, but this is a record which is all Freedy Johnston, and only adds to a luminous body of work that he has already established.