At Least We Have Each Other by The Hobart Brothers with ‘Lil Sis Hobart

February 25, 2012

The Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart may not be a super group in the usual sense of the word, but it is the coming together of three artists from different musical styles and backgrounds. Jon Dee Graham, Freedy (not Freddy) Johnston, and Susan Cowsill have combined their talents to form The Hobart Brothers with Lil’ Sis Hobart. They took the name Hobart from the dishwashers of the same name, which are found in nearly every restaurant where they performed during the early days of their solo careers. They are now about to release their debut album, As Least We Have Each Other.

Their ten song album comprises seven songs from their most recent studio recording sessions, plus three from their first, drumless, demo sessions. With the purchase of the album comes a free download of the entire nine song demo session.

Jon Dee Graham was a member/guitarist of the classic rock band, The Skunks, whose sound channeled such groups as The Rolling Stones and The New York Dolls. Freedy Johnston is best known as a songwriter who can paint pictures with his lyrics and surround them with catchy music. Susan Cowsill was a member of the mid to late 1960s pop group The Cowsills. Lately, her music has veered in a pop/folk direction.

Sometimes when artists from different traditions come together the results can seem forced or out of sync. Graham, Johnston, and Cowsill play like they have been together for years. The lyrics tell stories about cooks, waitresses, dishwashers, truck-drivers, love, despair, and living in a car. The music ranges from catchy to gritty. Their voices blend together effortlessly into subtle and sometimes soaring harmonies.

The overall sound travels in a number of directions. There is some catchy pop, a little swamp rock that reminds you of Creedence Clearwater, and some Americana music that is similar to The Band. The album’s first track, “Ballad Of Sis (Didn’t I Love You),” is the catchiest track as it is a pop infused up-tempo romp.

There are a number of well-crafted and very listenable songs. “Why I Don’t Hunt” is an ominous sounding song right out of the Louisiana bayou. “Sweet Senorita” moves in a country direction. It is a mid-tempo piece with a lush, filled-in sound. “I Never Knew There Would Be You” and “All Things Being Equal” feature fine lead vocals, especially from Susan Cowsill whose soulful voice has become a wonderful instrument.

The second half of the album contains more of a stripped down sound. In a way it reminds me of some of Levon Helm’s solo music. “First Day On The Job,” “The Dishwasher,” and “I Am Sorry” are personal stories with gritty music.

At Least We Have Each Other is an enjoyable union of three talented artists who have been practicing their craft for decades. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates good music.

Article first published as Music Review: The Hobart Brothers with Lil’ Sis Hobart – At Least We Have Each Other on Blogcritics.

Rain On The City by Freedy Johnston

December 16, 2009

Sometime during the summer of 1971, while traveling across The United States with some of my college buddies, I had my picture taken next to a sign in Kinsley, Kansas that proclaimed I was standing in the exact center of the country. Little did I realize at the time that somewhere in that small village of less than 2000 people, a ten year old Freedy Johnston was taking an early interest in music.

His big break arrived in the early nineties when he signed with the Elektra label and released the album This Perfect World which produced the Billboard Magazine chart hit “Bad Reputation.” This album and those that followed established a loyal fan base which has allowed him to continue to record and tour extensively.

He is now all grown up and Rain On The City is his 12th album release since 1990. It continues his development as a songwriter of note and accomplished vocalist. His well crafted lyrics deal with loss, love, and the perplexities of life.

He has assembled another set of thoughtful tunes in which his pop sensibilities just flow past the listeners’ ears and become ingrained within the mind. They are thinking persons lyrics that demand your attention and bare repeated listens to sort out their complexities.

He is never one to be pigeonholed with one style of song. “Don’t Fall In Love With A Lonely Girl” is straight ahead pop/rock while “Livin’ Too Close To The Rio Grande” goes in a country direction and features his fine guitar playing. The title song is a real production as strings and keyboard provides the foundation for his fine vocals. “Venus Is Her Name” goes in a different direction as his acoustic skills set up another excellent vocal performance.

The production is crisp and the vocal/instrumental mix is exact. He also includes the lyrics to his songs which are always appreciated and a good lesson for the thousands of singer/songwriters who fail to do so.

He is backed by a legion of musicians but of particular note is multi-instrumentalist Richard McLaurin who is at home on the acoustic guitar, lap and pedal steel, piano, accordion, and mandolin. Drummers Pete Abbott and Rich Malloy plus bass player David Santos lay down a good foundation for him to build his sound upon.

Freedy Johnston remains a true American troubadour. He is constantly on the road bringing his act to small clubs around The United States. Rain On The City continues his string of excellent releases and will hopefully gain him some mainstream notoriety.