Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Armed with a Broken Heart

Singer-songwriter Freedy Johnston doesn't exactly flood the market with releases of new material, and Neon Repairman, just out, is only his second CD of new songs since 2001. Like many of his peers among major-label refugees (or even minor-label refugees), he's more or less on his own these days; this CD was issued by Singing Magnet Records, which I suspect means that he put it out himself.

There are pluses and minuses to going it alone, but at this point in the evolution of the pop music industry a lot of talented people don't have much choice. Happily, this is a fine CD, one that can comfortably be set beside records like Can You Fly and This Perfect World that Freedy made in the 1990s when it was still possible for someone like him to get promotion and airplay. Freedy continues to tour and I hope at least a few people get a chance to hear this one.

As melodic and jaunty as Freedy's songwriting is, I doubt he's ever been accused of sugarcoating things, and this record is no exception. In addition to drug dealers, waitresses, and damaged war veterans, his characters run the gamut from the ordinary lovelorn to the borderline creepy. The gentlest song on Neon Repairman is sung in the character of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, and even that one looks back to "that hole in the ground we lived in during the war." Not that Freedy has cornered the market on dark material, but there are few songwriters who can combine romanticism, down-and-out grit, and human sympathy quite this successfully. Plus he just flat-out knows how to compose a pop song.

Neon Repairman is available from CD Baby (which has audio samples), and presumably at Freedy's gigs. You could do worse.

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