Mike Johnson

Year of Mondays

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Johnson's second solo album is a total treat -- anyone who loves Mark Lanegan's solo work or the Walkabouts will find something really grand here. With his then-Dinosaur Jr. employer J Mascis doing a fine job on the drums, playing with brushes as skillfully as with sticks, and a rotating crew of supporting players on other instruments, Johnson lives up to his bold but straightforward album dedication to Charlie Rich. There's plenty of slow, exquisitely sorrowful country-tinged misery here, too gently pretty in its melancholy to pander to the freaked-out/f*cked-up wing of alt-country, all too out of place to score anywhere with Nashville's cult of the hat in the '90s. So it was as it remains: a low-key, undiscovered gem. Even the seemingly more upbeat (musically, at least) songs like "One Way Out" have a gauzy, sweetly sad overlay, intensified by Johnson's own talents. Johnson's singing voice doesn't quite have the wrecked glory of Lanegan -- if anything, it suggests a slightly more tuneful Calvin Johnson or a cousin of Stephin Merritt. The comparison to the Magnetic Fields' lead man makes even more sense when one can hear how Johnson lets his voice slide into the mix, rarely taking a more demonstrative tack. Sometimes the arrangements, while not overly busy (this isn't Phil Spector or Jimmy Reed here) can obscure the qualities of the songs, so the more stripped-down arrangements on the first part of "Way It Will Be/Too Far" and "Hold the Reins" are nice variations. There's even some full-on rock roar on songs like "Circle" and "Say It's So." The second part of "Way It Will Be/Too Far" blasts to life and takes everyone with it, but Johnson stays his restrained, almost sepulchral self throughout.

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