Gravity and Grace

Pine Music 2009

If you’re born with a run-of-the-mill name, one way to attract attention is to spell it differently; another is to become a singer/songwriter of note. Johnsmith has both bases covered. Gravity and Grace, his sixth album, is a sweet album chockfull of Midwestern goodness, non-preachy spirituality, simple-but-memorable melodic hooks, self-revelation, and non-mawkish sentimentality. The opening track, “Right Into Love” is an autobiographical tour that takes us through Johnsmith’s hippie days, drives us to the West Coast, kicks us about, and deposits us back in a Midwestern Mississippi River town where the journey began. It, and family-values (in the best sense of the term) songs such as “Father’s Day” and “Juni Rae,” suggest a man content to be on the path he’s chosen. Highlight tracks include his reconfigured cover of Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” the faintly Irish “Safe Home,” and “Eliza Jane.” The last of these is a nice piece of writing. Johnsmith assumes the personae of a black woman from Tennessee making her way by bus to New Orleans through the old battlegrounds of the civil rights movement. For Eliza Jane her journey is “Holy Ground, Holy Ground/It’s one foot up and one foot down” as she observes life from the front of the bus, courtesy of Rosa Parks, yet still sees much work to be done. Johnsmith thinks of himself as a “blue collar” songwriter and he certainly has an eye for capturing everyday drama. Stellar guest help from Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, Jonathan Bird, Jimmy LaFave, and others make this an embraceable release that cuts through cynicism.--lv

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