Along with his ongoing work for Centro-matic -- last year's "Candidate Waltz" was a career record -- Johnson has taken to painting (delightful baseball-themed portraits) and recording (and touring) with New Multitudes, the Woody Guthrie project that also features Anders Parker, Jay Farrar and Yim Yames (aka Jim James of My Morning Jacket).
For "Scorpion," Johnson stayed close to his home of Denton, Texas, an unassuming college town on the northern outskirts of Dallas. Working with Centro-matic bandmate Matt Pence, Johnson gets a sound that will be familiar to fans of his solo work: it's largely acoustic, spare at first listen, and then revealing more and more sounds, fleeting and surprising and mysterious, in the spaces between the guitar, piano and voice. Along with Pence, Johnson enlisted the multi-talented Scott Danbom of Centro-matic, Howard Draper of Okkervil River and Mikey Kapinus of Magnolia Electric Company. Together they spent five days getting as close to the secret soundtrack one imagines plays through the soft-voiced Johnson's head. It's quiet and drifting at one moment, then violent and lurching the next. And it's always luminous.
In contrast to Johnson's recent work, "Scorpion" was written and recorded with notable spontaneity, with some songs composed in the studio. Rather than resulting in unfinished fragments, the songs -- especially opener "You Will Be Mine, Here" the title track and closing track "Vehicular and True" -- sound like complete expressions, needing sometimes nothing more than Johnson's guitar and echo-drenched voice, doubled and tripled, to tell their personal stories. Johnson has never been a linear songwriter or traditional storyteller; his songs riff on rhymes and melodies and surprising diction, and yet they never come off as random. They always sound and feel natural and new.
Breathe aloud, release
Sing a new world hymn
And that's just what Johnson does on this poised and poignant album.
"Scorpion" will be released on September 11, 2012 on the Undertow Music Collective label.