MICHAEL JOHNATHON – Garden Of Silence (PoetMan Records PMR70034)

Garden Of SilenceIncredibly prolific, Johnathon has released a previous twenty-one albums, with one a year since 2012, published five books, a play, composed an opera, regularly performs with symphony orchestras, produces and writes a syndicated radio show and has created three volunteer organisations. Garden Of Silence, his latest, returns him to one of the subjects of his 2020 album, The Painter, namely Vincent Van Gogh, the gentle acoustic picked and piano accompanied title track being about the day he passed away, though the line “It should have been like any other day/you interrupted those boys at play/now beneath this ground you lay” suggests he was murdered rather than, as is generally accepted, dying after shooting himself. Van Gogh was, famously, never feted during his life and as such that serves to provide the theme of the strummed banjo-led closing lament, ‘Folksinger’ where he sings “Nobody hears me play/Nobody cares/That’s what every folksinger like me will hear”.

Sandwiched between these are songs about repressed hurt and anger in the cascading fingerpicked notes and piano of ‘Hurricane’ (“go on and hide all your fears/And the Raging Pain that nobody sees”), about dancing with a lover on the old fashioned, brass warmed ‘September Eve’, yet more anger on the ‘Narcissistic Blues’ (“There’s no Escape from your burning Rage, babe/And you Gas-Light-Write on every Page”) and, in contrast the calm pleasures celebrating the simple joys of chilling out with your guitar on an autumn day (the easy rolling clarinet and horns-coloured ragtime ‘Front Porch Symphony’) or sharing a warm fire with someone you love (‘Winter Song’). That, in turn, is followed by the banjo instrumental, ‘Petrichor’, the title referring to the smell that gathers in the air after rainfall.

Elsewhere you’ll find the compassionate tenderness of the piano-accompanied ‘Prodigal Son’ (“I see an ocean in your eyes/There’s no need to fear me/No need to run/Don’t you know my heart is always a home for my Prodigal Son”) and the more electric folk-rock chugging break-up and leaving song  The Farewell  (“I belong on the road … now I’m leavin’/I hoped for the best Lord we Battled the Beast/Whatever we had, may it Rest in Peace/No regrets Babe/‘cause I tried real hard/You shuffled the deck/I drew a real bad card”).

There’s just one non-original, a tribute to his old neighbour and the man who got him into folk music, Pete Seeger, with the simple fingerpicked ‘Seeger Mashup’, an intertwining of ‘Sailing Down That Golden River’ and ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ with Melissa Deaton-Johnathon on backing vocals. Musically and vocally evocative of the early Don McLean, he’s always an engaging, soothing listen. On the closing number he sings “I just want to share my song/And let the whole world hear/That’s what every folksinger wants to share”. And so you should.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.michaeljohnathon.com