Will Johnson is many things, but lazy sonuvabitch ain’t one of ’em. Dating back to some time in the early ’90s, the Denton, Texas native has had a hand in an untold number of LPs, EPs records and live shows. The sheer volume makes concrete numbers difficult to pin down, but recording under monikers such as South San Gabriel, the Foxymorons, Centro-Matic and his own name, he’s averaged about an album or two a year and a concert every other day for at least eleven years now. That’s a conservative estimate, working under the assumption that Johnson doesn’t also perform under the stage names of Will Scheff, Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, Neil Young, Wayne Coyne or Patterson Hood. Fort Recovery is most likely Johnson’s tenth at the helm of Centro-Matic, his conduit for Americana and country rock.
But the album is country only in feel; there are about a dozen different guitar sounds here (including a heavy enough feedbag of feedback and distortion) alongside violin, piano, synth and perpetual, kidney-bean-dense percussion provided by Matt Pence. The sound structure is diverse, but Johnson tends to follow the rusty, bullet-ridden signs straight west most of the time. It’s not just well-versed in Southern imagery, it’s completely submersed in it (“Triggers and Trash Heaps”). On opener “Covered Up in Mines,” he mumbles up to a sorrowful crescendo that takes us from “the roadways to the drunk tank,” and for an encore (“Calling Thermatico”) lands with colossal guitar steps, strangely placed handclaps and always, always the scene-stealing percussion.
Like most of the singers listed above, Johnson has a distinct vocal style. He sounds like he’s bleeding from the gut and desperately trying to lay down those last few moments of consciousness. His Southern accent is on full display whether he’s kicking up prairie dust (“Patience for the Ride”) or up against sparse acoustic guitar and tambo rattle with the staple of every Texas boy’s dialogue — measured words (“Nothin’ I Ever Seen”).
Fort Recovery is more a sturdy guide-post along Johnson’s dusty trail than an alt-country classic. But albums from artists as prolific as he is should be viewed as period pieces: Fort Recovery was where Johnson camped out for a couple of months in 2006.
“Triggers and Trash Heaps” MP3 (Right Click Save As)
Misra Records Web site (with MP3s)Streaming audio