Michael Johnathon has created the rather marvelous Walden: the Ballad of Thoreau (here), a DVD / CD set that shows his playwright talents, music on the side. Ravenwood digs deeper into the gent's quite impressive sonorities while cementing his sincerity as a treehuggin', Left oriented, let's-adopt-a-little-sanity kinda guy, all very much to the good. He sings while playing guitar and banjo and has earned the respect of cognoscenti, including Sam Bush, John McEuen, Rob Ickes, and various others guesting in this release, a sumptuously recorded celebration of folk ambiances.
Johnathon harbors more than a small streak of good-natured jocularity alongside some stingingly humorous insights, as Cars amply demonstrates:
Climb into a little Subaru
People don't sing about cars no more
…so you're not getting raving movement politics here or implacable dogmatic stridency but rather a slew of Humanistic considerations looking into more than one side of an issue. Then there's the follower, The Money Song, an up-to-the-minute lament upon the current banking debacle surprisingly drawing upon historied antecedents and the ages-old eternal clutch of the rich, the upper class, on Joe Everyday.
Johnathon has a voice and delivery somewhere between John Denver, Tom Chapin, and Paul Stookey but a trifle grittier, more Ozarky, backwoods, good natured mountain man-ish. Almost everything here flows from his own pen—except a couple of trad cuts and Beethoven's Ode to Joy—even a take on an extremely popular old standby, re-titled Ballad of Bojangles. Then, fer thet citified sweetening, y'all, we gits us the Hippy Chick Strings chambering quite a few cuts, broadening the canvas. Johnathon has quite a way with strings himself, the plectrum variety that is, and I'm enamored of the melodic banjo approach he takes, perhaps most significantly shown in East Virginia Blues, making the instrument more guitary than harpsichordish.
There's a lot of feel-good in this picker's work, more than a little social commentary, and tons of tunefully enticing music in making a potpourri of themes and melodics. It's not difficult to see why his WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour is so popular, a kind of Prairie Home Companion companion. And, if you'd care to know more about that, then travel over to that Walden review for a more in-depth portraiture of this country gent.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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