Sun Studies: Sketches
[Self-released; May 3]
Show: The Night Rider, Raleigh
“Pastoral” is easily one of the most over-slapped descriptors in all of music, but for Reid Johnson’s charred folk vehicle, Sun Studies, the term feels accurate and useful.
Laconic solo projects are nothing new for the Schooner frontman, of course. Ersatz names like Hospital Smokers and Clinton Johnson ring familiar in the memories of longtime Triangle indie heads, but Johnson’s artistic output has always waxed and waned depending on your level of attention. These days, he’s fully in Sun Studies mode, and on Sketches, he indulges in his blurriest folk tendencies, crafting accessible, honeyed desolation and several of the strongest songs of his winding career.
This moody corner of folk music lives and dies with the vocal chops of the singer, and Johnson continues to sell his windswept baritone with the understated plea of a subway busker. Stripped of full-band rigmarole, his dazed melodies are unable to hide anywhere but in plain sight. These songs smolder in your ears, no protective noise or springy basslines required.
“Bruiser/Pawn” boasts a gorgeous acoustic strum and characteristically alienated imagery. “Summer Night” sounds retrofitted for just that; it’s serpentine folk for a balmy, melancholic evening on a porch with a choice brew. There’s the sense of an artist who has achieved a level of technical skill at which sentimental balladry is not only permissible but encouraged. He’s paid his dues.
If you’ve never paid attention Schooner beyond acknowledging its presence on local Facebook events or tattered telephone-pole flyers, this might be your best entry point into Johnson’s earthy yet ornately ornamented world. He’s one of the brightest folk talents North Carolina can boast, and Sketches stands as an immersive addition to his catalog as well as our collective Sunday-morning-coffee soundtracks.
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