Assuming you are old enough, you only need to listen to the first few bars on Freedy Johnston’s new album, Back on the Road to You, to be carried back to the late 1970s and the light pop of adult-oriented radio.
The entire album is a series of rocky or moody little numbers that sit somewhere between the Little River Band and Stephen Bishop, who readers under, say, 50 can look up.
This is clearest on “The Power of Love” and “Somewhere Love.” The former is a jaunty, summer-nights offering with thumping lead guitar from Doug Pettibone. It actually references radio.
The latter is a dreamy love song — at least it is telling someone that what’s being done to them is all about love — that even manages to drag in a where-are-you-Peter-Frampton guitar talk box.
This channeling of the ’70s was something of a plan, according to a press release announcing the album, which says the Los Angeles/Joshua Tree recording studio imbued it with “echoes of The Byrds, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young.”
That’s a big, big stretch. The songs are pleasant enough, with occasional bursts of something more and the odd clever lyrics that underline Johnston’s reputation as a gifted songwriter. And they are catchy — which means if 1970s AOR was still a thing, there could be a hit in there.
But the album lacks the punch that all the aforementioned artists bought to their music. Johnston has a good voice, but at least on this album, it is pretty range-bound, leading to a bit of sameness among the tracks.
It may just be me, but throughout what I could argue is the strongest song — “There Goes a Brooklyn Girl” — I kept wishing Lou Reed was singing it. It’s all about a mainstream gal and a guy on the borderline.