Freedy Johnston is a somewhat winsome, somewhat mopey singer-songwriter whose reedy voice and nagging melodic sense combine nicely with an almost uncomfortably tactile songwriting knack. The central thematic device in many of his songs (a proud but eager outsider comes to the big city) has reverberations both biographically (he's from a tiny town in Kansas and now lives near New York City) and musically (he plays unadorned, folky rock in an age of baroque alternativism). He writes songs about both these phenomena, and digs deep enough to hit bone. In "Responsible," the character hitting the city is the daughter of the singer, who looks on with a mixture of fear, nostalgia, and hope. And the first song on his 1992 album Can You Fly is "Trying to Tell You I Don't Know," an embarrassingly naked account of his life as a musician and a frustrated attempt to explain the allure. Even Johnston's thinner songs (I'm thinking of "The Lucky One") have goofy, lilting melodies. If tonight's less-than-ideal gig--he'll be playing with one other guitarist as an opener for the Cowboy Junkies--isn't your thing, wait until later this year, when he'll probably be back behind a new album he just finished with Nevermind producer Butch Vig. Saturday, 7 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 275-6800 or 559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Herman Nuhoff.