Johnny Society


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For the first time in three albums, Johnny Society was officially a full trio on Clairvoyance, as multi-instrumentalists Kenny Siegal and Brian Geltner were joined by Gwen Snyder (who also records as Blueberry). And when the album opens with "Blue Plastic Bag" with a honky tonk piano not far removed from prime-period Elton John before progressing into a John Lennon shouter, it is immediately evident that something is up. That "something" is the complete arrival of the band at the heights of its powers. The band's first two albums were exciting, frequently phenomenal efforts packed with brilliant ideas and strange, insatiably wonderful songs, all with appealingly oddball production and great playing, but they also contained moments that were not entirely formed or sufficiently well-developed. Clairvoyance, on the other hand, is tremendous all the way through -- perfectly paced, bountiful, swirling -- a masterpiece of both songwriting and sound on which each cut raises excitement for the next. And it is hard to imagine a band who was already heads-and-shoulders above its contemporaries making such a radical progression as this album is from Wood, but then who thought the Beatles, with each album, would outdo their own previous brilliance? The production on the album is unceasingly impressive. Salvation Army horns, country & western sitar, playful harpsichord, old-world banjo, White Album guitars, and accordion play their way into the songs so seamlessly that they only bolster the brilliant set of psychedelically inclined melodies that Siegal has written. Songs such as the Beck-savvy "Chinese Torture" and the soulful, gospel-drenched "Leaves" boldly display the unlimited diversity of the band. As varied as the production was, the previous two albums were decidedly guitar-driven affairs, but Clairvoyance is musically and compositionally driven, and piano is at the center of the songs as often as guitar is. "Hard to Care" is a perfect example, a jazzy piano ballad that gradually morphs into a gentle, swinging pop song that has that epic sort of ambience that Elton John, Laura Nyro, and John Lennon so expertly captured in the '70s. There is a curious old-time pop swing lying at the heart of many of these songs ("Hard to Care," "Juggling Monkeys") that adds a sense of connecting to a musical past that doesn't recognize lines and barriers, and an overall romantic manner. The second half of the album bolsters that feel by taking on a lilting tone that has all the imposing magnificence of David Bowie while approaching Prince-like levels of slow falsetto funk on "Don't Die on Me." The amazing thing about the album is that explodes so many of the expectations that the first two albums generated. It is the sound of a band finding out that there are no boundaries it is incapable of traveling beyond.

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