Listening to Will Johnson’s latest album Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm, my imagination was flooded with imagery: lamplight in the desert, abrasively hot summer days, road trips running away from the past. This is a campfire album, to be listened to alone while contemplating the nature of time and space. Rooted firmly in blues rock and traditional country music, the album gripped from its first twangy pedal steel sighs and didn’t let go until the final aching chord.
Johnson’s career has spanned a quarter of a century, and it shows in every measure of every song. His masterful arrangements utilize the most iconic sounds of country and folk music and twists them around crunchy electric guitars and edgy bass reverb, with the smokiest of vocal harmonies, always tinging the sentimental with the world-weariness of an artist who’s been living on the road so long that nothing surprises him anymore. Each song is richly textured in its own unique way, but there is always a delicate restraint that reins in the lush instrumentation and keeps it at a perfectly bittersweet simmer.
Johnson sets the tone for this musical journey with the first track Childress (to Ogden), an austere but gently driving cowboy song that establishes a sense of introspection that acts as the emotional core of the album. These songs are stories, each one marked by a deep longing for some kind of closure that seems impossible to find. Lyrics like “time has its way of revealing some new danger with each day” hit close to my heart.
Throughout the album, Johnson dances adeptly between nostalgic Americana (Ruby Shameless and Predator) and gritty western-tinged alt-rock (Every Single Day Of Late and Heresy And Snakes) merging and intertwining the past and the present in every sense. The songs lingered in my mind, weaving themselves into my dreams for days, and I couldn’t stop listening again and again. This is a work of quiet brilliance, humble in its presentation, and deeply layered as a cohesive work of art. Johnson’s got a voice to fall in love with, and I’m officially hooked.