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Freedy Johnston
THE WAY I WERE
(BAR/NONE).

Back in 1991, Kansas-bred Freedy Johnston bet the family farm (thatís not a metaphor) on his second release, Can You Fly, the kind of album that almost made it cool to be a singer-songwriter again. Fly was a distinctive and literate collection of character studies of ordinary folks examined from extraordinary angles, all sung in a tremulous voice of barely contained emotion. Critical kudos followed, and so did a deal with Elektra.

But Johnstonís subsequent work with that label never achieved Flyís intensity, and thatís why The Way I Were, a batch of rough-and-ready four-track strays from his early Bar/None days, is so welcome. These recordings, none of which has appeared before, reveal the artist before the quirks got smoothed over; the ramshackle production is more íMats (as in Replacements) than MOR. Occasionally, as on the sing-song "Happy Birthday," Freedy sounds as unhinged as that other Johnston, Daniel. But most of these tunes cut deep. On "I Got the Papers Right Here," a scorned lover serves notice that "this time the bill of love/Isnít gonna clear." "The Enchanted Car" is actually a trap, a "cancelled coupe on worn-out wheels." As for "Captain Astro," he "lived alone on his own planet. . . . I was too young to see the seams/His cardboard ship/And checkbook eyes." For many artists, nothing is what it seems. For Freedy Johnston, everything is exactly what it is.

By Eliot Wilder


Issue Date: December 3 - 9, 2004
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