A Few Words Regarding the Man


When I first met Jack Evan Johnson, it was as a journalist who knew my mother (career editor), albeit in full denim.  We talked about authors we both appreciated, found enough common ground to end up friendly for a while, and I only found out about his band after that.  This was during the Dude City era, those caustic Vegas days, and his version of Americana was antsy in some of the same ways as the Ramones' version, but even then, it was definitely a homegrown kind of sound.  Desert folk will know what I’m talking about. Then he disappeared to Australia for a while. So more desert, I guess.


I ran into him a couple years later to find out he had relocated to Nashville.  He still talked this funny way that makes more sense when you surround it with bar noise, like he’s trying to talk beneath all the chaos.  Like words make him grit his teeth. So, as I started to hear some of this music coming from the new Nashville Jack, it kind of made sense, like the songs themselves were meant to cut through the usual bullshit, banal bar-banter, to penetrate that part of a person that is always listening but never paying close enough attention.  Those kinds of epiphanies that never last come morning, but are still the reason you’re able to get up every day.

He’s a storied man.  But disarmingly approachable.  A little bit of water, a little bit of fire, but mostly clear—refreshing, like good moonshine.  Started a record label called Devil’s Tower back in those Vegas days, because anyone else trying to help all us broke musicians were weirdo creeps trying to exploit an ephemeral lack of fame before it might blossom into anything solid enough to pay the bills with.  There are hangers-on—and then there are just people working on the buddy system, down to experiment a little and honestly happy just to be around the good energy. But don’t ask me. Try The Mad Caps, who had the best rock album in the local rag that year (Jack produced it).  Or Chandelle. A rusted angel’s set of pipes on that one: See, the man has got good taste.


When Jack asked me to do this, I knew I was going to fuck it up a little.  As a writer, I can be a pretty stubborn, but fortunately for both of us, I’d already given him a little review of the last couple albums as we were catching up via emails.  I want you to know the context, because that shows you it’s honest. It’s just an opinion, but the rumor around these parts is that I have pretty damn good taste too:


Your best work is a very precarious balance of relatable and idiosyncratic.  It both feels like anyone could have said it and also like only Jack Evan Johnson could have said it.  It feels like what Bruce Springsteen would have done if he was more inwardly focused, if he wasn't ready to come in out of the cold.  Like if Townes Van Zandt weren't such a mystic.  It's magical realism for conmen, just trying to get the sleight of hand down well enough to pay the bills this month.  It's that ineffable something people are trying to hijack when they start using buzzwords like "authentic."


And besides, it’s easy on the ears. And he’s still got bills to pay, songs to write about it.  And a furious oasis of guitar to build around it:   In denim…


—James Norman, Poet or Pirate or Drummer, depending on the ask—