This is the third instalment in Anti-Corporate’s superb The Magnolia Sessions series and it doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve heard the previous sessions, or read some reviews, you’ll know what to expect – a singer-songwriter delivers a sparse and intimate set, recorded live outdoors with the crickets and cicadas.
This time around we have the solo debut of Tennessee-raised Colorado resident Johno Leeroy. He’s also known as Johno Roberts, frontman for ‘modern classic country good timing bar band’, Hang Rounders. If you’re not fan of country bar bands, never fear – although this The Magnolia Session includes a couple of Hang Rounders tunes, they’re given a much simpler, more primal treatment. It’s just a man, a tenor (four-string) guitar, and his stories, and those stories are fearlessly honest and direct. There’s no embellishment, no poetic licence, no virtuoso bluster. Even opting for four strings instead of six brings simplicity.
The first tale begins with the now-familiar crickets, and a slow strum in Rest Easy. It starts quietly, almost tentatively, as Johno reflects on the passing of a friend, but eventually starts to pick up energy. When both the guitar and the vocals start to ring out more strongly, it feels as if he’s finally accepted the situation. But this album’s not sad all the way through – Bass Boat is more upbeat and hopeful, a story of staying out of trouble and away from the drugs. Bent Poles is reflective, even a little regretful, but mostly a hymn to the good things in life.
The next couple of tunes are short and tender odes to lovers and family. In Weed Or Wine, Johno tells us that there’s ‘no weed or wine that‘ll get me half as high as spending one night by you’. Wild is full of both fond recollections of his childhood, and wonderment at how quickly his daughter is growing. Higher Ground is slower-paced and remorseful – a story of moving to the Rocky Mountains, and an honest admission that ‘there’s no excuses for the things I’ve done’.
I was born and raised in a different hemisphere and a different culture, but I get it. I feel it…
Growing Up In The South is a reminiscence of childhood and a loving, even awed, tribute to his hard-working single mum, and Tired continues the theme of callused hands and blue-collar life. Davidson County is another tale of leaving his childhood home behind and heading for the Rockies. ‘Mark me up like a postcard, deliver me’ – it’s simple, modest poetry. Twig is a song for a friend who’s a little too wild and a little too fond of a drink.
The session is rounded out with Junebug, a meditation on mortality. It was originally a Hang Rounders tune, but here it’s stripped to its bare bones. The honky-tonk sounds of the original are pretty foreign to me, so without them, the music feels more universal, more direct. I was born and raised in a different hemisphere and a different culture, but I get it. I feel it.
Many people of my parents’ generation eventually heard Nirvana stripped of the fury and the volume, on their Unplugged set, and they finally got it. That’s the great beauty of Johno Leeroy’s album, and every other The Magnolia Session to date: strip away the excess production, and you strip away much of the cultural baggage. What you’re left with goes right to the heart of our shared humanity.
Scribed by: Rob Bryant