By Henry Lipput
Although it’s been seven years since Freedy Johnston’s Neon Repairman, from the opening notes of his great new album Back on the Road to You (Forty Below Records) it’s clear he hasn’t missed a beat.
My favorite songs on Back on the Road to You recall the things I’ve liked in his past work. For instance, my first listen to the glorious pop of “There Goes a Brooklyn Girl” made me think of Never Home’s “I’m Not Hypnotized.” The five-minute long instant classic “Somewhere Love” has the same melancholy vibe of his masterpiece Blue Days, Black Nights.
The back-to-basics rock and roll delight that is “Tryin’ to Move On,” about a man on the run, sounds like the inspiration for an early Jonathan Demme film with a theme song written by Chuck Berry. The album’s title song is a return to form as he’s helped by a crack roots music team that adds nifty touches like a pedal steel and organ fills. But it’s the banjo that begins the song that can make you want to run to your CD collection and give his break-out release Can You Fly yet another listen (but listen the new album first).
Johnston gets some help along the way from friends who happen to be major-talent singer/songwriters. Aimee Mann provides lovely backing vocals to “Darlin.” Long-time collaborator Susan Cowsills matches him note for note on the rave-up “The Power of Love” (NOT the Huey Lewis song). And Susanna Hoffs brings a twang to her backing vocals on “That’s Life.”
The first song, “Back on the Road to You,” and the last, “The I Really Miss Ya Blues,” bookend the album. In addition to what the lyrics tell us about a man trying to get back to someone who means a lot to him, they work as well for long-time Johnston fans who, for nearly a decade, have had the really miss him blues.
Welcome back, Freedy.