Liner Notes

Making a living as a writer is a dream come true, and not a day goes by that I don’t take a peek at my LinkedIn profile just to remind myself that I’m not dreaming.

Music is my other great passion, and I’ve been making music professionally in some capacity or another for nearly three decades.

It’s no surprise then, that I particularly enjoy those projects where the two come together — whether it be co-writing a new song with a musician I admire or penning an essay about a favorite artist or album.

Liner notes occupy a special place in my heart.

I’m old enough to have grown up in an era where knowledge about comparatively under-documented musical forms like blues, jazz, and folk was best sourced from the back of LPs. I spent a significant percentage of my teenage years at the library, poring over liner notes on the backs of albums by everyone from Alberta Hunter to Zoot Sims. When closing time loomed, I’d Xerox the liner notes I hadn’t gotten to yet that day, and I’d read them on the bus home — I had to make copies by column, because the square format of vinyl record covers didn’t fit on the copy machine’s screen!

Liners notes aren’t so much of a thing anymore, what with the internet and all that, but some artists do still include them, and I’m always grateful. Occasionally, I’ve had the honor to have been invited to contribute liner notes, and as far as I’m concerned, there are few higher honors!

Just such an opportunity came my way not long ago when I was asked to write liner notes for the new album from Jon Lawton, AKA Little Jonny Lawton. Space constraints meant the full notes were edited down somewhat for the CD cover, but I happily and humbly include the full notes below. I hope you enjoy, and more than that, I hope you listen to the album. It’s a fantastic piece of work.

Breaking Your Heart with a Smile and a Stomp: The Creaky Goodness of Little Jonny Lawton’s Folk-Blues Fables

If you’re someone who likes the idea of having a guitar-playing uncle with a suspect past coming around the house on Friday nights to shoot the breeze on the family porch, then you’re going to love the songs of Little Jonny Lawton.

Musical wisdom can’t be faked, and when it comes to the folk and blues traditions, authenticity is everything — there’s no trying to be something. Either you is, or you isn’t. Little Jonny is. He has the gift of being plainspoken in song, and his fuzzy sing-speak twang is the perfect vehicle for his new-old sound and penchant for instantly aphoristic lyrics. When he sings, “like a three-legged dog, I feel lucky,” it doesn’t even occur to you what a strange idea that is — the sentiment just sits atop his plaintive and pistoning banjo like a perfect kind of country blues koan.

The temptation to evoke relevant musical ancestors is strong as you listen to a song like “Let Bygones be Bygones,” and you wouldn’t be far off track if you find yourself thinking of Leon Redbone or Dave Van Ronk. However, depending on which song proves to be your first point-of-entry into this album, you’re just as likely to be thinking about Junior Kimbrough as you are Dock Boggs, and you’ll certainly be forgiven for thinking of latter-day Steve Forbert when you hear the creaky goodness of Lawton’s vocal delivery.

As an instrumentalist, Little Jonny is elegantly unhinged in all the right ways — whether thumpily fingerpicking a Tommy Johnson vibe in “Going to CA,” or flatpickin’ a Guthrie feel on “Happy, Hungry, Screamin Heart.” But it’s as a composer that Lawton carves out a genuinely singular niche for himself. There is an elusive balance between the familiar and the strange that is essential to the magic of folk and blues music, and Little Jonny manages the weave with enviable grace — nowhere is this gift more in evidence than on the beautiful and brutal “Someone’s Broken Heart”:

as i was walking down that california street

she was pushing a shopping cart with rain boots on her feet

they were painted like a duck and they made her dance

but her eyes were streaky black; she’d used up her last chance

there goes someone’s broken heart

they’re sittin’ in their rooms cryin’ in the dark

you want to speak the word that you never spoke

chances are like paper, burning into smoke

you can only take so much, then you begin to choke

If your idea of the perfect uncle is one who can fingerpick the blues while tellin’ you stories about women who seem to have come to life up off the pages of William Kennedy’s Ironweed screenplay, then make sure to have a banjo and some beer on hand next Friday night, cuz Little Jonny’s comin’ over to break your heart with a smile and a stomp.

~

The album is a treat from start to finish, and I heartily encourage you to acquire your copy today. You can get it direct (CD, download, or bundle) from Bigtone Records: https://bigtonerecords.com/store/

(I got my copy autographed!)

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Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist , poet, writer. Vintage guitars, vintage typewriters, new Moleskines.

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Preacher Boy

Preacher Boy

Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist , poet, writer. Vintage guitars, vintage typewriters, new Moleskines.

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