Michael Johnathon – Garden of Silence
Twenty albums deep would solidify the fact that Hudson Valley-born folk singer Michael Johnathon has a loyal following. With the first strains of his latest accomplishment, the acoustic guitars chime confidently & the mature songwriting is original & has lots of sustenance.
Both opening songs are beautiful. “Garden of Silence,” (about the day Van Gogh passed away), followed by “Hurricane,” are in the style of Gordon Lightfoot crossed with Don McLean rather than Phil Ochs. They’re primarily light airy melodies woven into delicate arrangements that border on easy listening & songs that could’ve been written in an earlier era. But these are not oldies.
“September Eve” has that simplicity of melody that pop songwriters of the 50s managed to chart every week with. Michael has a pleasant folky vocal that would be suitable for children as well as adults. He’s another Michael Franks stirred in with Michael Martin Murphey mixed with Kenny Rankin. Is that even possible? And it’s miraculous because he’s convincing.
Produced, written & arranged by Mr. Johnathon (Martin 000-28s guitar/Deering/VEGA long neck banjo/Franzke mandolin/Hammond B3/percussion). The 11-cut CD Garden of Silence (Drops March 24– PoetMan Records) has songs that comprise a 31-minute relaxing journey, enjoyable & compared to what passes for popular music today – its individuality is modern. How can that be? One listen to “Front Porch Symphony,” would describe my curious confusion.
There’s a generous dip into the late English folk singer Clifford T. Ward’s (“Gaye,” “Wherewithal”) & David McWilliams’s (“Marlena”) elements. Original melodies emerge in your ears that you believe you’ve heard before since they have a nostalgic sweetness that your memory finds whimsical. Of simpler times, of good living in fairy tale towns & sunny days. Silly? Yeah. But isn’t that glorious?
There isn’t a negative word in any song. It’s all dug from the soil of good memories & happier times. Quite remarkable. You listen to this music & you come away with a satisfied feeling that you may not have had before.
More mainstream is “The Farewell,” which is immersed in a delightful showcase. “Folksinger,” is an excellent coda with its gentle Nil Lara-type Euro-folk melody with a dash of James McMurtry richness. This is a collection of graceful, precise & clever tunes. Classy stuff.
Highlights – “Garden of Silence,” “Hurricane,” “September Eve,” “Front Porch Symphony,” “Winter Song,” “The Farewell” & “Folksinger.”
Musicians – Sharon Ohler (flute), John Johnson (drums), Bob Bryant (bass), Jason Coleman (piano), Ruth McLain (upright bass), Braylee Parry (clarinet), JP Pennington (electric guitar), Melissa Deaton-Johnathon (background vocals) with Gazebo Horns (Nick Adkins – tuba/Sam Nagel – trombone/Kevin Elvidge – trumpet) & the Happy Chick Strings (Steve Rankin – arranger/viola), Sarah Payne (viola), Kevin Baldridge (violin) & Annette DiToma – violin).
Color image courtesy of Michael Johnathon. CD @ https://www.michaeljohnathon.com/gardenofsilence/