Freedy Jonston | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Freedy Jonston 

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FREEDY JOHNSTON

In the last few years many singer-songwriters have consciously borrowed the hopped-up angst of alternative rock. Freedy Johnston, on the other hand, still understands that empathy requires believability. On his fourth album, Never Home (Elektra), Johnston's narratives reveal bits of well-articulated ugliness that are all the scarier for being easy to spot in yourself or your acquaintances: "I'm Not Hypnotized," for instance, gets inside the head of someone who's cruelly halfhearted about a relationship ("You want me to stare into your eyes / Whatever, you're the only one / OK, but I'm not hypnotized"). Refreshingly, Johnston's songs don't always imply autobiography--"Gone to See the Fire" is about a woman realizing that her lover's an arsonist--and he has that rare ability to write both compassionately and realistically about things he's only imagined or read. And for accompaniment, he crafts hooks so simple you don't even notice them sinking into your brain. Although it seems as though 1992's Can You Fly is destined to remain his high-water mark, there are few artists left who operate in the classic singer-songwriter mode with as much economy, tunefulness, intelligence, and emotion as Johnston. He performs on a bill with Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin. Saturday, 8 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State; 312-443-1130 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Frank Ockenfels.

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