Freedy Johnston

Rain on the City

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Rain on the City Review

by Mark Deming

Freedy Johnston seemingly went into hiding after 2001's Right Between the Promises, playing the occasional live gig, releasing an archival live disc, and putting together a collection of old four-track demos, but otherwise staying out of sight. Rain on the City marks his first collection of new songs since his tenure with the majors came to an end early in the decade, and while Right Between the Promises sometimes sounded like Johnston was forcing the cheerfulness after 1999's dour and downbeat Blue Days Black Nights, Rain on the City strikes a more comfortable balance between the bright and blue sides of Johnston's musical personality, and in terms of getting a sound that suits his songs, this is his most effective set since This Perfect World in 1994. Producer Richard McLaurin knows when to let the performances stay spare on "Lonely Penny" and "The Kind of Love We're In," and he also knows when and how to let Johnston rock, and when the guitars and drums kick in on "Don't Fall in Love with a Lonely Girl," the effect is nothing less than thrilling. Johnston also seems to have gotten his stride back as a songwriter, and these 11 tunes are full of the sharp but thoughtful wordplay and unique characters that make his best work so pleasurable; quite simply, it's hard to imagine anyone else writing something quite like "The Devil Raises His Own," "Venus Is Her Name," or the title track, and his dusty Midwestern tenor brings these stories to vivid life, which listeners can soak up like they would a good book. Rain on the City lacks the consistency of Johnston's masterpiece, Can You Fly, or its follow-up, This Perfect World, but unlike the albums that followed, this collection is a beautiful example of Johnston playing to his strengths and reminding us why he's one of the best and most singular American songwriters at work today. With any luck, it won't take quite so long for him to make something this comfortable but pleasantly surprising again.

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