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November 15, 2011 // 8 PM
Johnston’s songs are often praised for their literary quality – and deservedly so – but they also hit you on a gut level. As a young man, Johnston was drawn to both the raw energy of punk and the austere beauty of Paul McCartney’s vocal melodies. It’s no surprise that Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True is among the first albums that inspired him. One can hear Costello’s gift for meticulous songcraft and wry storytelling on Johnston’s second album, Can You Fly.
When it came out in 1992, Rolling Stone and Spin hailed Can You Fly as a masterpiece. Robert Christgau called it “a perfect album.” Its success led to a major label deal with Elektra, for whom Johnston released “This Perfect World” in 1994. Not only did that album showcase Johnston’s increasing sophistication and range as a songwriter, but it also included his breakthrough hit, “Bad Reputation.”
Johnston took a break from songwriting in the ‘00s, releasing the demo collection The Way We Were and the covers album My Favorite Waste of Time. Then, in 2009, he released his first new album in eight years, Rain On The City. Pitchfork, the Los Angeles Times and others praised the album, calling it one of the most assured efforts of Johnson’s career.
Now splitting his time between New York City and Madison, Wis., Johnston is currently writing and recording songs for his next album, tentatively titled Neon Repairman. In an age where the Internet has greatly diminished the power of radio to dictate artistic success, Johnston is poised for perhaps the most exciting stage of his career. At this point, though, it isn’t about destiny. Johnston fulfilled that a long time ago. Now, it’s about joy – both for Johnston and his fans.