Freedy Johnston | Schubas | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Freedy Johnston Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Fri., Jan. 22, 7:30 p.m. 2010

Freedy Johnston's previous album of new material—the last thing he released before parting ways with Elektra Records—came out nine long years ago, and since then he's weathered a painful breakup, what he tactfully calls "issues with the IRS," and a period of semi-itinerancy when he spent time in New York, Austin, Madison, and Nashville. But he's back with the brand-new Rain on the City (Bar/None), and though his lyrics have grown more economical, his elegant melodies are as ingratiating as ever. Likewise Johnston's insights into faltering relationships and private suffering remain almost painfully sharp. In "Central Station" he sings as a man waiting for a train home after his father's death, unsure if he'll ever be back, and in "Lonely Penny" he has an imaginary conversation with a coin found on the street, turning it into a wrenching meditation on depression and rootlessness—something not too many songwriters could pull off ("Hey penny we are the same," he sings, "Are we both just waiting to be taken away?"). Johnston's reedy voice remains a big part of his charm: he handles it with exquisite care, allowing his high notes on songs like "Venus Is Her Name" to develop a vulnerable quiver that gives them a potent emotional sting. And in his songwriting he's more than just a meat-and-potatoes strummer, drawing on the sprightly melodic style of Buddy Holly for "It's Gonna Come Back to You" and even borrowing a bossa groove for "The Kind of Love We're In," one of his most sophisticated tunes. Johnston is backed by the Know-It-All Boyfriends, whose lineup includes Garbage bassist Duke Erikson. —Peter Margasak

Price: $12

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