GREG JOHNSON, PROFILED AND REVIEWED (2024): Back for another crack

 |   |  2 min read

The Cherry Pickers, From Thunder in Fall (2024)
GREG JOHNSON, PROFILED AND REVIEWED (2024): Back for another crack

It has been more than 30 years since we first wrote about Greg Johnson, a major profile in the New Zealand Herald in about 1991 when he released his debut album The Watertable.

We have followed his career ever since, caught up with him in Los Angeles where he went to live and have interviewed and reviewed him over the decades.

But we are also aware that for many, because of his long absences, he is barely known by new generations, as we note in the following article.

.

Greg Johnson maintains a unique association with this country. Although the former Aucklander has lived in Los Angeles for more than two decades, his regular returns home – often during summer and sometimes on the back of a new album – have seen him draw enthusiastic audiences.

It was a following he'd earned, as he said in 2009, after “all those years of shitty pubs and many, many miles up and down the country”.

Certainly some see Johnson – now 56 – through the prism of their own memories: the young trumpet-playing singer conjuring up the whispery spirit of Chet Baker's cool jazz of the 50s in the band Bluespeak; the engagingly louche singer indulging in fine wine, special cocktails and witty banter; the memorable internationalism of his hit Isabelle; the craftsman of such staples as Save Yourself, Don't Wait Another Day, If I Swagger, the Silver Scroll-winning Liberty and You Stay Out of Your Life (And I'll Stay Out of Mine).

Without apparent effort, Johnson refashioned himself from jazz nightclubs to mainstream concerts, cult artist to radio favourite, tipsy raconteur to observant writer, and an artist in the same class as Don McGlashan, Dave Dobbyn, Bic Runga and the Mockers' Andrew Fagan.

Johnson's new album Thunder in Fall isn't a departure from recent form and although the cover of R.E.M.'s Drive is unexpected, it fits the melancholy and reflection which have been his hallmarks in the past decade.

thunderWriting on a recently bought secondhand piano, Johnson weaves images of travel, emptiness, lonely places and quiet consideration into mid-tempo ballads with subtle embellishments from keening trumpet (notably on Riverboat and the disturbing imagery of The Cherry Pickers) and acoustic guitar (American Steve Katz on the rolling momentum of Grasslands).

The folksy sway of Smile or Frown with Britain's Julia Fordham veers close to Shane McGowan's emotionally broken nostalgia and the more urgent Cavalry – which strains its soldier metaphor – leaven the largely understated mood.

The album closer One Night Out on the Town – about a late walk home – sounds like the kind of song, sung solo at piano, to end a concert on a profoundly memorable note.

“Give the kid a chance,” he sings in The Next Trip Around the Sun and, although this album has its lesser songs, Greg Johnson's track record means he'll always be allowed that.

.


unnamed

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Absolute Elsewhere articles index

BRITAIN YAWNING INTO THE NEW DECADE (2020): 1962; The year before the dam burst

BRITAIN YAWNING INTO THE NEW DECADE (2020): 1962; The year before the dam burst

Was 1962 among the most bland in popular music? The charts from the UK and USA would certainly suggest as much. By the early Sixties, the excitement of the first wave of Fifties rock'n'roll... > Read more

QUINCY JONES INTERVIEWED (1990): The boss back on the block

QUINCY JONES INTERVIEWED (1990): The boss back on the block

Quincy Jones does quite put it this way, but he knows that with great power comes great responsibility. And Jones has great power because of a financial empire founded on an extra ordinary... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

LUCIA CARBINES INTERVIEWED (2014): The girl in the bubble

LUCIA CARBINES INTERVIEWED (2014): The girl in the bubble

When Lucia Carbines says some bodies are more flexible than others you believe her, because this affable, Christchurch-born 20-year old is the elastic proof. As “Miss A In A... > Read more

Various Artists; Chicago/The Blues/Today! Vol 1 (1966)

Various Artists; Chicago/The Blues/Today! Vol 1 (1966)

With an American history over a century long, the blues isn't easy an easy journey to begin on: do you go at it chronologically from slave chants and field hollers, or work back from white... > Read more