It was 1992 when a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events resulted in a masterpiece. Freedy Johnston, a musician from Kinsley, Kansas, arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, at the height of its fertile songwriter scene and, inspired, recruited a few peers and (literally) sold the farm to record and finance his album Can You Fly, a nearly flawless collection of songs. Johnston went on to do some great, if uneven, work on Elektra (including the minor hit “Bad Reputation”), but when his contract ran out, so did he. In financial and relationship trouble, he wandered, gigging when he could, until he landed last year in Austin. Rain On the City (Bar/None) is Johnston’s first album of new material in eight years, and it’s a welcome return to form for this gifted songwriter. Johnston is a sad sack with a keen grasp of the human condition; in a voice that doesn’t sing as much as plead, he deals with alienation and loneliness. Yet he keeps his music from becoming a slog with bright melodic instincts and a love of language. “We collide and change and fall again on some city day,” he sings in the title track, “and help somebody wash something away.”
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