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Freedy Johnston: A Wry Look At Love Gone Wrong

Freedy Johnston kicked off his 1992 album Can You Fly? with the transporting line, "Well, I sold the dirt to feed the band." It was a true story: Johnston had parted with his family farm in order to finance his recording and touring ambitions. The sacrifice disturbed Johnston, but it made for compelling tension in his great, urgent music. A flurry of superb and critically beloved records followed -- the knockout single "Bad Reputation" was even a minor hit in 1995 -- but mass stardom eluded Johnston, who recently returned with Rain on the City, his first new album in eight years.

Johnston isn't a flashy lyricist, but at his best, he has a subtle flair for wordplay. "Don't Fall in Love With a Lonely Girl" may seem, at first blush, like an innocuous enough title for a song, but don't be fooled: What unfolds is a wry and twisting narrative of love gone wrong, as infectious as it is infected with malice. It's a mark of Johnston's adroitness that it takes time to metabolize the strangeness of the titular sentiment. "Don't fall in love with a lonely girl / because you'll never be alone with her," he sings over a keening chorus. Well, if she's so lonely, then why doesn't being with you make her feel better? Why would she end up out all night, "doing things I can't imagine in an ordinary town"? In short, what fresh hell is this?

Johnston's breezy way with this lurid state of affairs exemplifies the songwriter's gifts. Another all-time great, Graham Parker, once advised, "Don't bother with the local girls." In Johnston's song, the narrator bothers too much, with regrettably messy -- and, for Johnston's fans, enjoyable -- consequences.

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Timothy Bracy
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