About fifteen years ago, while most of the music-loving fans in the world had discarded the poodle perms, black leather pants and the gaudy turquoise and silver baubles associated with hair metal to embrace the slackerisms and flannel workshirts associated with grunge, a different sort were looking at huge belt buckles, cowboy boots, and pedal steel guitars. These folks were encountering, then hopping aboard the alt.country trend, a musical sub-genre championed by the likes of Uncle Tupelo, Jayhawks, Eric Ambel, Blue Rodeo and many other lesser-known acts. While grunge was known as bare-bones, meat-and-potatoes rock with no frills, the purveyors of the alt.country trend took “bare bones” a bit further, with most adopting a sound best described as Johnny Cash on meth as performers and devotees yearned for the perfect blend between traditional country circa 1958-1965 and rock and roll derived from the days of Sun records revved up with a post-punk modern feel. Though grunge also had a primitive feel, it had it’s own sound. In contrast, while the best alt.country and roots bands filtered their music through the prisms of punk and post-punk, an equal amount were enamored with simply striving to emulate their ’50’s and ’60’s heroes down to the bent notes on their paisley Telecasters. Though bands of this nature were found mostly on the second-tier, even the edgiest bands such as Uncle Tupelo showed their indebtedness to their heroes from Nashville on their sleeves and were careful not to stray too far from their country inspirations. It was the same catch-22 which modern blues players find themselves. How much do they honor their past and provide a touchstone to fans, while still blazing a trail and progressing their music so new generations will find elements to enjoy?
With this album Johnston answers the musical question of ‘what the hell happened to Freedy Johnston?’ quite handily, giving his fans (or what’s left of them) a disc of new songs after a seven year sabbatical from studio recording. Though almost a lifetime in the pop music world, Johnston hasn’t been totally silent, having released a live album and an odds-and-sods collection of early songs since Right Between The Promises , his last studio release in 2003 for Elektra Records. But, for the most part, this is Johnston’s “comeback” record and it’s fitting it should be for Bar/None, the label on which he released his first three much-acclaimed albums in the early ’90’s . While more than enough time has passed for Johnston to get a new look from both his old fans and from the public at large, his original fanbase may have moved on, so Johnston has both the benefit of being fondly remembered and the negative of having to prove himself again and remind people of his past successes , relatively minor though they may be.
Negatives aside, this “starting over” position may be the best thing for him as he really should have been huge by the end of the ’90’s. This may give him a chance to hit the “do-over” button and get the acclaim he has always deserved for his great songwriting style and the time he’s put into honing it.