JOHNNY STEINBERG – Shadowland (own label JS032020)

ShadowlandIt may stem from the Highland Clearances but there is an affinity, an empathy between Scotland and the USA. They don’t make a huge fuss about it but remember that Andrew Carnegie came from Cromarty and look what he did for New York. Shadowland is part of that link. It’s Johnny Steinberg’s debut album and a glance at the credits revealing the names of Boo Hewerdine and Chris Pepper as players and co-producers suggest that you should expect quality recordings.  You’d be right and you can read the story of how it all came about in the booklet.

The protagonists of these ten songs are not high society types and most of the stories Johnny tells could be set on either side of the Atlantic even with his strong feelings for Americana. The exception is the magnificent ‘New York Tooth And Claw’ but even here Pepper’s E-bow produces a drone that would take you to the Highlands if you let it.

Johnny’s heroes are all searching for something better out of their lives. The father is the opening ‘Holding On’ is doing just that: “I’m doing extra hours because Ellie needs new shoes” sums up his situation and the couple in ‘Set Sail And Go’ are working on their boat and dreaming of escape in a different way. Similarly, ‘Carrie’ is explicitly looking for a way out from her job in a launderette with John Temple’s saxophone decoration suggesting both the grim reality and the bright lights ahead. There is a sweet twist to the story, too.

The ‘Man On Wire’ has already made his escape but the central figure of ‘Shadow Of A Man’ failed to make his by following his father into the army. PTSD isn’t mentioned but that was the result. Finally, ‘England’ is an enigma. I read it as being for everyone who is still searching but that may not be Johnny’s intention.

Shadowland was recorded in Tennessee, the UK and Copenhagen (Gustav Ljunggren playing and engineering in his own studio). The sound is rich and varied but never over the top and there really isn’t an unnecessary note. An excellent debut.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Hey Now Pamela’ – live: