Jenny and the Johnsons: Burning it Down with Torch Ditties

Jenny and the Johnsons:  Burning it Down with Torch Ditties
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Jenny Johnson

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Jenny Johnson

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Jenny Johnson

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Venues & Businesses
Carbondale Main Street
Makanda Springfest
Old Feed Store, The

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Jenny Johnson: In Tune for InBloom


Who: Jenny Johnson
What: CD release party (Americana)
Where:
When: 2014-05-02 - 2014-05-30
On Saturday, May 10 Jenny and the Johnsons, an up-and-coming Americana band forged right here in Sou
Brett Haynes

On Saturday, May 10 Jenny and the Johnsons, an up-and-coming Americana band forged right here in Southern Illinois, will release a new CD, Torch Ditties, at a show with the Rural Kings at the Old Feed Store in Cobden.

The band consists of Jenny Johnson on guitar and vocals, Greg Edwards (Woodbox Gang) on bass, Ben West (Hobo Knife) on banjo and mandolin, Evan Sims (Hobo Knife) on ukulele, and Nicole Szczepanik on washboard and spoons.

Johnson’s music, especially with her backing band, fits right into the local folk/Americana scene, along with the likes of the Rural Kings, Whistle Pigs, Alex Kirt, et cetera. It’s as if they’ve been here all along.

“Concerning the music, I write it all,” Johnson told Nightlife. “I played solo all last year, and finally worked up a talented bunch of miscreants, and they’re my Johnsons. I consider it to be Americana because it’s an amalgam of bluegrass, blues, country, soul, and jazz. From Cab Calloway to Woody Guthrie to Billie Holiday to Hank Williams kinda thing. It’s a sweet and salty mix of mountaintop highs and bellyup blues. I go back and forth, maybe singing a sad swinging minor song to ragtime sweetheart tune because that’s what life is, up and down.”

It is refreshing to hear Johnson’s new take on an old sound. Her original songwriting is honest, raw, and real, while her voice is immaculate, and with a full band behind her the music is a force to be reckoned with.

The CD release party takes Johnson back to the disc’s birthplace.

“The album was recorded and mastered by Alex Kirt of the Woodbox Gang, done entirely at the Old Feed Store,” Johnson said. “We recorded the studio tracks there, and Ray Hogan, the owner of the Feed Store, asked if we wanted to do a concert there to get a live recording as well. So we did, and the last two tracks are live at the Old Feed Store, cover tunes featuring a temporary, makeshift band of David Brown [from Secondary Modern] on guitar, Marcus Lappin on bass and Chris Wittman [both from the Flowers of Evil] on drums, and their heavenly, high-reaching backup vocals.”

Nightlife asked Jenny where she got the name Torch Ditties and about some of the thematic content of her songwriting.

“The songs are wrought from failed relationships I’ve had,” Johnson said. “However, I’m not the kind of person to bemoan my losses in weepy-eyed ballads. Torch Ditties is a playful and less-serious attempt to harken back to traditional torch songs, which usually deal with one person woefully pining over unrequited or lost love.

“Despite me writing of loss and failure, there’s also the theme that it’s okay to be alone,” Johnson continued. “My songs ‘One Time Sweet Angel,’ ‘Better off Alone,’ and ‘Wandering Still’ come to mind. It seems there are a lot of people who bounce from one person to another and never really develop their sense of self. It’s a shame. Go find yourself. Embrace loneliness.”

Johnson got her start in music at a young age, and has come a long way since.

“I sang when I was a kid, played guitar off and on, did the church-music thing, did the school-music thing, played in a shitty band,” Johnson said. “I guess what started me doing what I do now, the songs I write now, came from a place of a desire for independence. I wrote music, but couldn’t play them well enough on the guitar to play out, so I depended on other people to play them for me. I finally got fed up waiting on others to play my music, so I spent some time in the woodshed playing rhythm guitar, wrote a lot of good and bad songs, played them for my friends, then played them— horribly— at open-mic nights, then in between sets of my friends’ bands at bars. It was about then that people began taking notice of what I was doing and started asking me to play my own shows. A slow, arduous process, yet I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Pick up Torch Ditties at Plaza Records in Carbondale, and preview two cuts on Nightlife’s web project at <http://www.CarbondaleRocks.com>.

who: Jenny Johnson

what: CD release party (Americana)

where: Makanda Spring Fest; Old Feed Store; Hangar 9; Town Square Pavilion

when: Saturday, May 3; Saturday, May 10; Friday, May 23; Friday, May 3