Vernon singer/songwriter Betty Johnson’s album, Evening Song is a concept album without pretension.
It’s a thematic recording based on the seasons and landscape and Johnson tapped the talent of John Lent, Neil Fraser and Andrew and Zachari Smith to deliver some vibe. And they complied big time.
Evening Song plays like an art album done in the tradition of a play. The songs and spoken word (by Lent) set each other up in a conversational current. The sound and mood is deceptively casual, as if you’re having a private concert in a spacious ski lodge done by a travelling troupe of performers on an “up” night. But the detail on Evening Song shows on the pacing and how it sets up images and glow.
The effect is earthy and ethereal when Lent’s poem, Water, ends with: “Looking for the heart of Saturday night” and segues into a harmonic dreamy intro to Johnson’s Pot of Gold.
Her vocal and songs run from uplifted jazzy folk to darker shades of Peggy Lee (Crepes Suzette). The title song is a standout track, an example of economy and inspiration.
The seasonal sound painting that Johnson works up connects because it taps into a flow and avoids grandiose overstatement. It sounds natural by keeping the free-form spirit focussed and coherent, like performance art without weirdness.
The beatnik jazz tradition beloved of Kerouac and Ginsberg is evoked on Crepes Suzette, a down tempo groove featuring Fraser getting his Wes Montgomery on.
The procession of sylvan songs and spoken word make the album a successful meeting of art and ideas with music as the medium.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Venron-based musician who reviews the latest releases in his column, Street Sounds, for The Morning Star.