speakerwire collins - "the boy said my name's johnny"
exciting and odd cassette from iowa cities ed gray - which finds him and drummer brian boelman as a simple two piece band. this isnt typical gray material though. its simply bass and drum and vocal. whereas mr. gray usually really lets the howls out, here it seems more restrained. to me there is a strange 70s quirky country vibe to the whole ordeal. its hard to pinpoint exactly - other than its very ed gray. his songwriting shines through in these mostly quick bumpy jumblers!
"the biggest pose"
"come here watson"
"the piedmont peppertrail"
Iowa City’s Ed Gray has been at it longer than most of you have been alive. He’s seen it all come and go, over and again, a constant among the college town turnover. To this end, The Boy Said My Name’s Johnny leads off with one of Gray’s typically acerbic assessments of the ‘underground’, stating “the biggest pose is authenticity”. To offset this, Gray backs up his judgment with deft lyrics and compact songs, evocative and complex, yet never overly-intellectual or pretentious.
On Gray’s most recent solo album, the austere production and instrumental ornamentation added much to his country-influenced songwriting. Speakerwire Collins’ barebones sonic approach could not diverge more from that template, yet is equally rewarding. The sparse backdrop, consisting solely of drummer Brian Boelman (Miracles of God) and Gray on bass, provides ample room for the songs to breathe. Gray’s sleepy baritone comes to the fore, allowing his words to hit the listener directly, a shot to the gut.
One touchstone for the songs on The Boy Said My Name’s Johnny, to my ears, is fIREHOSE (“Disinfectorant”, in particular, sounds like something off If’n). There is an understated, slack-funk feel to many of the tunes, and Gray’s bass, in tone and melodic drive, is reminiscent of Mike Watt’s workingman virtuosity. Boelman supports the songs perfectly, providing a light touch and insistent pulse that carries the feel, filling in spots where necessary and laying back when it best serves the song.
The centerpiece of the tape may be “Dog Years”. The longest and most somber track – bookended by two brief, brighter pieces, an example of the excellent pacing of the album – the song expresses a lifetime of living out-of-time through wrenching lyrics, melancholy without a drop of self-pity. There is detachment is Gray’s voice, as he intones this refrain:
Talk to me in dog years
Call me thunderstorm fears
Walk me on the wet sand
And swim me out to sea
Ease my mind with false hope
Sell me out to the white coats
Tell me that in dog years
Is where I ought to be be
Elsewhere, Gray supplies moments of dark humor. On “Hunger Artist”, he sings, “Gonna eat ‘til I’m portly/Gonna roll down that hill/And forthcoming shortly/All y’all will”, before sucking the air out of the room with the brutal couplet, “If you’re feeling hopeless, don’t read history/The secret to starving is a good memory.”
Sounding like is was recorded live to a tape deck in a windowless white room, there is an implied voyeurism to The Boy Said My Name’s Johnny. Perhaps this is an audio verite document, providing a glimpse into the lives of these two men. Or maybe it’s just another pose, some high theater designed to take a year’s worth of life from the listener. Either way, it’s startling in the clarity of its intent and execution, another fine recording in the diverse catalog of these two gentlemen-dudes.