CBTP Spotlight: Johnny Irion
It’s been a long time between solo albums for Johnny Irion, more than a decade in fact, since Ex Tempore won critical acclaim upon its 2007 release. AllMusic praised that album and its songs, delighting in “how tuneful they are, how easy to catch onto, even on first listen.” The same is true of the handful of harmony-rich folk-tinged records Johnny’s made with his wife, Sarah Lee Guthrie—the most recent being 2013’s Wassaic Way, recorded at Wilco’s Chicago studio and produced by Jeff Tweedy and Patrick Sansone. And that can also be said of the rocking music he recorded with his band, U.S. Elevator, whose celebrated self-titled album hit the ground running in September 2015. In his January 15, 2016, review for Rolling Stone, Will Hermes wrote, “[Johnny’s] new band, U.S. Elevator, looks back even more evocatively, and boisterously, with songs that feel as lovingly hand-crafted as the jeans on the back of After the Gold Rush.”
Which brings us to Johnny’s eagerly awaited new Driving Friend album. Like Wassaic Way and U.S. Elevator, Driving Friend appears on Johnny’s custom Rte. 8 label, and it is set for a May 17 release, coinciding with Mother Hips’ Hip Nic Music Festival in Big Sur, California. The new album boasts A-list credits including drummer Griffin Goldsmith and pianist/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith from big-time folk-rockers Dawes; the aforementioned Pat Sansone (Wilco); James Raymond (David Crosby, Warren Zevon); singers Sarah Lee Guthrie and Nicki Bluhm (Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers); and producer/multi-instrumentalist Tim Bluhm (The Mother Hips).
For the album’s mastermind, doing a Johnny Irion album is “almost like starting over.” The songs, though, are vintage Johnny: catchy, lyrical, evocative, and thoroughly original, with nods in the directions of such musical heroes and trailblazers as Neil Young, the later-day Beatles, and the early Flying Burrito Brothers.