Will Johnson: “It Goes Away So Fast”
There are some musicians who change their surroundings and personnel with each record, hoping the scenery shift can spark something unique. And then there are musicians like Will Johnson whose consistency is their greatest asset. Since forming his band Centro-matic in Denton some seventeen years ago, Johnson has cranked out a major piece of work–album, EP, collaborative project, painting–every single year under a variety of guises. No Depression magazine even saw fit to name him their “Artist of the Decade” in 2010. The remarkable thing? Quality comes with the quantity, and Johnson has crafted one of the finer discographies in Texas music. Scorpion, his just-released solo album, keeps this winning streak alive.
The album is his first solo venture in eight years, but don’t think he’s been resting. Performing in KUT’s Studio 1A recently, Johnson joked about all the irons he currently has in the fire, and that always seems to be the case. Along with his frontman duties in Centro-matic, Johnson leads the more roots-influenced South San Gabriel. Past projects have included a collaborative, Woody Guthrie-inspired album with Jim James, Jay Farrar, and Anders Parker; drumming for the Monsters of Folk (James, Conor Oberst, and M. Ward);yet another collaborative record with Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Co.);and even a series of baseball-inspired paintings.
But more often than not, Johnson is teamed up with Matt Pence, producer and drummer in Centro-matic/South San Gabriel. The two have worked on nearly twenty albums together, including the new Scorpion. Recorded in Denton in the dead of winter, the album is a stark, somber affair, but it’s brimming with Johnson’s economical hooks and weathered rasp of a voice. A song like “It Goes Away So Fast” rewards close listening: impressionistic lyrics are melded to a ghostly, folk-inflected melody, with Johnson blazing his own trail the entire time, just as he’s always done.
Consistency is key, but he truly excels in the live setting, pushing and pulling at his songs to get at new meanings and avenues. You’ll have a chance to see him do just that tonight at the Cactus Cafe where he’ll be performing alongside longtime friend Anders Parker.