Freedy Johnston | Szold Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Freedy Johnston 

When: Sun., May 10, 7 p.m. 2015
Price: $22, $20 members
Freedy Johnston has been screwed over by the music industry and the fickleness of the record-buying public for a good long while. He established his skills as a melodically gifted, lyrically observant songwriter with his 1992 masterpiece Can You Fly, which was followed by a nice run on Elektra. By the end of the decade, however, his nonflashy approach had fallen out favor. That’s through no fault of his own, because this guy has never made a bad record. In fact, the forthcoming Neon Repairmen—his first new album of original material in five years, and only his second since 2001—ranks among his best, though I do have a soft spot for his soulful, reedy voice and the efficiency of his lean writing. Set to be released by his own label, Singing Magnet, the album opens with the mournful title track, a clear relative of the Jimmy Webb classic “Wichita Lineman” in which the narrator plays the role of an outsider lurking on the periphery—instead of inhabiting bars, motels, and diners, he simply fixes their signs (“The Horseshoe Bar, yes, I know it well,” he sings with a bitter resignation). Johnston’s characters have never been especially happy. “Baby, Baby Come Home” features a plea from a lost soul who’s incapable of fully understanding his lover’s departure—though he sings about the stone fence he built that surrounds their home, which seems to indicate a controlling nature—while the quirky character study in “Angeline” is told by a petty drug dealer after he leaves his partner, a carny weed dealer, in the lurch. The melodies are as tender as they are hooky: the sorrowful tone of “Summer Clothes” perfectly matches the sadness of its protagonist, while the upbeat “By the Broke Streetlight” is right in sync with the go-for-broke theme. Johnston plays an in-store at the Goorin Bros. Hat Company in Wicker Park at 2 PM. —Peter Margasak

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