YTAA Recommends: Nicholas Johnson – Back Upstate

Ever hear a record that you did not know anything about and were completely surprised, enamored and then drawn into a new musical world? Well, that has happened to us here at YTAA.

We are currently listening to the new record from Nicholas Johnson and to say that we are impressed is an example of classic understatement! The music he makes sways from sounding like Whiskeytown (‘Come Around’), smooth LA sounds of the ‘70s (‘I’m a Ghost’, Night Ride’) to rocking like a midwestern Lucero (‘Lonely Girl’), the story closes on a bluesy swirl about getting out and embracing experience (‘Nashville’). The record explores a music space that is reminiscent of the past and stands squarely in the present. For us the standout track is the shimmering vulnerability of ‘Sinner’

‘Sinner’ is a powerful, convincing and decisive tune. If you hear that song and do not feel the naked emotion, then you have some work to do. This song captures heartache, emotion and the soul ache that is part of living. In addition, the backing vocals from the always stellar Amber Hargett are just simply perfect and compliment the contemplative delivery of Johnson. Their voices together elevate the song. When Johnson sings: “I’m a sinner, ’cause I hate myself, I’m a sinner because I want to be” — you feel it because the Ryan Adams like patience in Johnson’s delivery makes it matter, you have felt this way too. You may not want to embrace your brokenness but it is there inside us all, just the same.

We would not be doing our job if we did not complement Rich Reuter’s production on this album which allows each song to shine on its own and as part of the collection. Reuter is a musical chameleon on this record playing guitar, bass, lap steel, mandolin, keyboards, drum programming, background vocals and percussion in addition to producing, engineering and mixing the songs. We have no doubt that the gathering of musicians who worked with Johnson on this record including some powerhouse alums of the Dayton Music Scene Khrys Blank, Jenna De Gruy, Amber Hargett, Patrick Himes, Eric Reith, Sara Gomes and Rob Spahr who all share a musical companionship and vision. Johnson not only has ties to the Dayton area but also has interesting stories from being a touring musician in Italy and throughout Europe. Some of those connections are demonstrated through the contributions of Lorenzo Testa on banjo and Lorena Vezzaro on violin.

Johnson draws on his music and storytelling influences while showcasing his unique focus on the textures of each song. While the songs stand on their own, the assembled music together paints a narrative that is relatable and meaningful. This approach should occur far more often than it does in music. And Johnsons voice is perfectly authentic as he sings across forms and styles in this incredibly catchy collection about human foibles and insecurities without sounding downtrodden.

Nicholas Johnson has crafted a fantastic record that has strong Dayton Music Scene connections both behind and in front of the microphone. Our compliments to Ninja Jam Records. Get this record! Get it right away!