Album Review of
Evening Song

Written by Joe Ross
August 3, 2015 - 12:00am EDT
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We often hear acoustic country and bluegrass being fused. Michael Johnathon, on the other hand, has a vision for his "folkestral" music that incorporates elements from folk, blues, bluegrass and classical genres. A consummate touring folksinger who plays guitar, banjo and mandolin, "Evening Song" features 13 originals from Johnathon (with the other two from Bob Dylan and Leroy Carr). We certainly know what Michael's favorite time of day is. His inspired eclecticism does have a common theme - all of the songs are either about, set in, or written in the evening. That's interesting because his last album ("Homestead") also included many similar reflective pieces in our about dimming light ("Winter's Eve" and "The Homestead Suite") with that album's title cut telling a story of a peaceful autumn evening at home.

All songs on the 58-minute CD: Blue Highways, In The Evening, Nightime Star, Spirit, Benediction, Mandarin Mandolins, Chinatown, Empty Pillows, St. James Hotel, Go Laddy Go, Midnight Symphony, Sunday Song, My Baby, Masters of War, Troubadour

The notes on Johnathon's eighth album quote Henry David Thoreau about becoming more pensive in the twilight of the year and the beauty of the last hour of the day. Most of his songs are peaceful and contemplative. Others, like "Mandarin Mandolins" and "Go Laddy Go" impart a little liveliness to the melodic step. The nearly hour-long set closes with "Troubadour," a meandering and presumably autobiographical sketch about the poetry that lives in his guitar and the "peaceful dreams in everything I sing." The clever singer-songwriter and radio host (WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour) enlists the support of 18 others for the "Evening Song" project. Noteable bluegrassers include Rob Ickes (Dobro), Don Rigsby (mandolin), and Andy Leftwich (mandolin).

Although liner notes don't clarify who is playing when, Ickes' playing is immediately recognizable in the breaks and fills. But with five different mandolinists contributing, players should have been credited on a song-by-song basis, and some personal notes about the inspiration for each song would have bee helpful. Others in the patchwork of sound provide cello, bass, violin, viola, French horn, fluglehorn, trumpet, saxophone, drums, percussion, jew's harp and background vocals. His accompanists successfully dispense "song conversation" to the music. Evening Song's nicely-arranged, multi-instrumental tones and rhythms resemble a cozy quilt that warms you by the woodstove at dusk. (Joe Ross)