If eclectic singer-songwriter Freedy Johnston were food, he’d likely be an Asian buffet. Appealing, in an exotic, curious way — the wit and variety of his ideas are tempting, but not always easy to digest.
If you’re up for the challenge, however, The Way I Were — a collection of Johnston’s self-produced 4-track demos from 1986 to 1992 — is an excellent antidote to the festering mediocrity of contemporary pop. Like odd Jungian postcards, many of the 14 tracks here have the quality of a waking dream; otherworldly lyrics that explore empty places (“Light of Doubt”) or, seemingly, unconscious love (“The Enchanted Car”) demonstrate Johnston’s formidable skill at crafting rock ’n’ roll or even country turns. Strangely, this collection’s weakest, “She’s a Goddess” — which finds the singer mewling a la John Mayer on a bum trip about the intoxicating charms of some babe — opens the album. But what follows more than makes up for the bumbling start and, even in its weirdest moments (like “Happy Birthday” — a wacky call-and-response wherein affected “friends” expound on the nature of their birthday presents), these highly-listenable, artfully produced demos never fail to entertain.
Wendy Case writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].