August 2019 Artist of the Month: Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson
Stack Your Stones

There are big voices and then there are BIG voices. Put Cameron Johnson in the second category. How big? Like John Gorka on steroids. Like a canon fired into a thunderstorm. If you don't already know this talented Arkansas musician, get thee to YouTube immediately and check him out.

First things first: When Johnson was first putting himself on the circuit he made a homespun promo CD titled Stack Your Stones that didn't actually have a song of that name among its tracks. It was mostly Johnson on guitars and vocals and his father, Bruce, on drums. This is a different project.

The song "Stack Your Stones" for which the new EP is named is a souped up version of "On My Own" from the promo. Somewhere along the line Johnson got connected with the right people. If you have one of the demos, you'll be struck immediately by how much more is going on in the new Stack Your Stones. The reworked title track opens with some vibes-like keys that set the table for horns, rock solid percussion, backing vocals and a big swell to the chorus. Check out how the horns drive the track, hollowing out for an echoic bridge, and then speeding us to the end like a semi making up for lost time. That's not to say Johnson is a man in a hurry. "Is There a Difference" is soulful and slow. The organ in this one suggests a bit of gospel influence, but the song itself is about disconnection: "Is there a difference between right and wrong/Cause I'm the last one standing when everyone's gone." Later he bemoans looking out the same window and seeing a different view. For all of that, Johnson prefers to take the back roads to explore the strength that comes from realizing others are on the same path. That message comes through clearly in "Let It Lie," which implores that letting go often reveals the ones standing beside you that can speed your journey home (however that is understood). Call it a big voice, tender heart kind of song.

"Somebody's Son" is another bring-the-noise arrangement. Johnson's vocal vibe is that of an arena rock singer still wearing his pork pie jazz hat. In the song he describes a downbeat character–whom we imagine as street person–as smelling "like yesterday's smoke." What a vivid image! But he also tells us that "He's easier to love/If you picture him as somebody's son." It's one of several stitched together bios that alert us that there are tales behind those on whom we'd slap quick labels. The EP is rounded out in a balancing way by "The Hunt," a piece of swampy Southern rock soaked in edgy mystery, clashing guitar work, and resonant vocals. For reasons you have to hear to understand, its abrupt ending is perfect for the song.

It's my understanding that Johnson intends to release another EP in a few months to bookend this one. If anything he does gets half the airplay it deserves, you won't need me to introduce you to Cameron Johnson.
Rob Weir

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