Review of Speedy Johnson’s Album Before it is Dark

  • Speedy Johnson playing a live concert. Photo Alexandre Rebiere

  • Album cover of Before it is Dark. Photo Sasha Endoh and Alexandre Rebiere

An exploration of different musical genres, from electronic to rock to a mix of country with a hint of folk: This is the music of Speedy Johnson.

Before it is Dark marks Speedy Johnson’s fresh start as a musician, where he blends his love for folk, rock and roll and psychedelic music into several of his singles. For the recording of this album, Johnson collaborated with several Montreal musicians such as Ram Krishnan on drums, Kevin Moquin playing several electric guitars and synthesisers, and Shaun Ryan on bass.

Johnson’s habit of incorporating multiple genres of into this album comes from his musical inspirations. From his years in high school, he developed a taste for the musical works of Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits and Les Claypool.

“But right now, I’m listening to a lot of old country/blues singers,” said Johnson. Mississippi Hill music, Blind Willie Johnson and, of course, Bob Dylan are a few of Johnson’s inspirations behind the development of Before it is Dark.

These diverse inspirations are clear on songs like “A Ship Full of Demons,” where he begins with an engaging repetitive soft-rock ballad, that gives the impression of riding a haunted carousel. Then, he switches into indie and rock where all you can hear is the electric guitar strumming a simple and mellow chord progressions, accompanied by an easy-to-follow drum beat. The song ends with the return of the soft-rock ballad.

“I didn’t try to write a mainstream song,” said Johnson. “I tried to let the song move as much as possible.”

The constant change of genres doesn’t stop Johnson from travelling further into his songs by incorporating several vocal transitions. For example, on “Deep in the Mire,” he begins singing with a screeching pirate accent that quickly switches into his standard American accent, but then ends with a return of the pirate voice.

“The voices that I do depend on the part of the song,” Johnson said, laughing a bit. Each of his songs provide voice changes, since he firmly believes that incorporating several changes allows for each of his songs to stand out and helps when it comes to avoiding a constant tone of voice.

Listening to Before it is Dark, I immediately fell in love with the track “An Everlasting Youth.” The song kicks off with the soft warm touch of the electric guitar playing a energetic repetitive chord progression, followed by the drums lightly adding in a slow shuffling beat.

Johnson uses his normal and screeching tones of voice in the song, which perfectly compliments the track. The song recounts the story a young man, who believes he has the “world in his hands.” But as he grows older, he notices that his life has become more difficult, with the constant challenges and changes he has to face day by day.

“I started writing that song when I was in high school and I’ve always loved that song,” said Johnson. He had no idea if that tune was going to be put onto the record, but when he brought it into a jam session, his bandmates immediately fell in love with the ballad.

Before the launch of Before it is Dark, though, Speedy Johnson toured Quebec with his old Montreal-based band Ol’ Savannah. He and his fellow bandmate Bartleby J. Budde co-founded this foot-stomping folk band back in the early 2000s.

Ol’ Savannah incorporates the deep root sounds of the Southern United States into their sound. They were ranked as part of the top five country/folk acts in Cult MTL’s best of reader’s poll in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and has made an appearance at Montreal’s Folk Festival near the Lachine Canal in June 2015.

With his album now fully launched as of April 7, Johnson has recently completed touring around Quebec.

“This was my first tour as Speedy Johnson,” he said. “If we can go and tour, then it keeps the fire fueling.”

Speedy Johnson // June 23 // La Sala Rossa // 4848 St. Laurent Blvd

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