Amoeblog

Freedy Johnston's 'Perfect' Pop Gem: I'll Buy THAT for a dollar!

Posted by J. Mark Beaver, July 20, 2009 09:25pm | Post a Comment
freedy johnston this perfect world
Freedy Johnston
came out of Kansas and played around New York until he got signed by Bar/None Records, who released his debut, Trouble Tree in 1990. Trouble Tree was well received, but it was 1992's Can You Fly that got Johnston's name and songs bouncing all around college radio.

I've always thought of Freedy Johnston as the lost member of the Db's. He has a pristine pop quality to his voice and the stories he writes have the same almost-too-clever and slightly melancholic take on relationships that made the Db's' Amplifier the deservedly huge college rock classic that it became.

In 1994 I was working at SF's Reckless Records of London, an arguably cool and decidedly tiny record store on upper Haight St. As always, I was listening to anything I could get my hands on. Johnston's This Perfect World happened across the counter and stopped me in my tracks just by the power of its sheer completeness.

Produced by Butch Vig (Garbage) and featuring contributions from Graham Maby (Joe Jackson Band), Kevin Salem (Dumptruck), Marshall Crenshaw, Marc Ribot, Mark Spencer (Blood Oranges) and David Schramm, who worked repeatedly with the Db's' Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple, This Perfect World is a perfect pop record. Most of it is deeply written, deeply produced and played rock-pop, though in places ("Gone Like the Water") it reveals Johnston's beloved folk-country roots. I've heard the criticism that Butch Vig sucked the edge out of it in the production, but I wasn't noticing that in 1994 and don't really notice it today, 15 years later, listening to it (still) from beginning to end.

Continue reading...

Cheri Knight: overlooked Queen of Alt. Country

Posted by J. Mark Beaver, December 31, 2008 07:15pm | Post a Comment
blood oranges corn riverBy all measures, 1990 was a pivotal year for country-rock, or what we came to call "Alt. Country," or even "No Depression," the latter term being the title of the debut album released that year by a country-infused trio out of Belleville, IL., called Uncle Tupelo. I 'm sure I don't need to spend too much time elaborating on the merits of this band that re-awakened a slumbering genre with enough force to have that genre thereafter associated with its debut.

I will say, however, that I own a good number of t-shirts with their name emblazoned on them, as well as t-shirts for the band Son Volt, formed, after Uncle Tupelo's break-up, by Jay Farrar. Out of all proportion to any of my other band T's (and I own many), these Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt t-shirts almost without fail find me being stopped by strangers telling me how much they love those bands.

Now to my real point...

Mining similar material and existing through the same arc of time, a much lesser known band, steeped in bluegrass but pulling it into the 21cheri knight knitterst century by its fiddle-strings was rockin' its way out of northern New York State. The Blood Oranges featured singer/songwriter/mandolinist Jim Ryan, guitarist Mark Spencer, singer/songwriter/bassist Cheri Knight and drummer Ron Ward. The Blood Oranges were a really, really good band, good enough that Steven Mirkin in a June 1994 Rolling Stone said that they, "...find ways to make country-rock fusion seem like an idea with unlimited potential." They followed their 1990 debut, Corn River with 1992's Lone Green Valley and The Crying Tree in 1994. All of them strong albums and all of them more or less greeted with apathy by the record-buying populace. Then they called it quits.

Continue reading...