REVIEW: Jeff Warren Johnston’s New Release “Undiscovered Country” is a Soaring Showcase of Austinites


Jeff Warren Johnston’s new release Undiscovered Country (Travis Records) was produced and mixed by Richard Brotherton at Ace Recording, and features a slew of gifted musicians.  Johnston reports that he titled the album according to a line in Hamlet, in which the prince considers death, and the album symbolically represents the death of Johnston’s former identity and the rebirth of a new one as a reconnection with his Texas musical heritage. Johnston also gives a nod to his Trekky side with the album title, which was the subtitle of a Star Trek movie.

In keeping with Johnston’s sense of coming home to roost in Texas, the album displays a smorgasbord of talent from Austin, with Rich Brotherton on guitar and clittern, Lloyd Maines on pedal steel; guitar contributions by Redd Volkaert; and then there’s Bill Whitbeck on bass, Stefano Intellisano and Riley Osbourn on organ, Warren Hood at the fiddle helm. Stephen Barber arranged the Tosca String Quartet; and the album art was illustrated by Jim Franklin (Bo Diddley, Bruce Springsteen). Leann Atherton sings backup and T. Jarrod Bonta kills it on piano. Non-native transplants to Austin are in attendance as well, from Ben Balmer, Deani Flemmings, Jacon Jaeger, Greg Harkins & Kris Wade on backing vocals, to drummers James Gwyn, Lisa Pankrantz, and Tom Van Schaik, to Marty Muse on steel guitar, and we have forgotten some too.

“El Toro” opens the collection as a glorious impassioned soaring number, with Johnston singing ‘I’ll be blazing through hell at the crack of the bell’ as a tribute to an aging bullfighter with the Tosca String Quartet adding lilting energy. “Whiskey Under the Bridge” features Lloyd Maines, with Brotherton’s guitar licks and some tongue in cheek nonchalance from Johnston. In the mix are some unique, albeit distinctly different songs about affairs of the heart: “Wild Eyes” and “Weddin’ Bells Never Served Me Well” with Lee Ann Atherton on backup vocals. Irreverent songs like “You & Your Sister Too” keep the mood light and spirited. “Thangs are Looking Up” features a jangly Elvis-style rockabilly song highlighting Bonta’s frenzied piano chops. “Love You to Pieces” is a more somber number, again featuring Maines and the Tosca String Quarter. The album covers a lot of ground between merriment and earnest appeals, with honesty in every quarter, and musical treats in every moment.  Get your copy here, today!!!

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