Right Between the Promises comes across as simultaneously the flip side of, and a companion piece to, 1999's Blue Days Black Nights. Where that album's songs flowed with an ominous energy barely concealed by the moody, hushed tones of their surface, Promises forces those same emotions out into the light -- a cathartic, rocked-out release to Nights' endless tension. The result? Smart, darkly ambiguous songs that nevertheless seem built for high-volume, summertime play on a car stereo. Promises continues the slant toward vague, impressionistic character studies, and away from narrative Johnston started on that previous album. In a way, though, it's telling that his sole cover here is an unabashedly straight version of Edison Lighthouse's '70s bubblegum hit "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" -- and more telling that he does it so well. Even the strangest stuff here has a certain accessibility: The chunky, harmonically fractured blues "Back to My Machine" holds attention despite its overly ambitious, science fiction-themed lyrics. The few tunes that hark back to the subdued quality of Nights have a new aura of poppiness, too; the gentle guitar hook in "Arriving on a Train" sounds breezy rather than just forebodingly delicate, and not even the prominent cellos and violins seem mournful. The disc includes the first studio appearance of "Radio for Heartache," previewed on Johnston's 2000 live record Live at 33 1/3. Right Between the Promises may not be as richly nuanced as his very best work, but it's still a fine example of his idiosyncratic brand of intelligent, radio-friendly folk-rock.
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AllMusic Review by Kenneth Bays