When you talk about the tunes of Freedy Johnston, there’s only one little problem. After you’ve been blown away by his songs of suspicious circus carnies, shoplifters, unfaithful lovers, the drug-dependent and the truth-challenged, how do you tell people about this guy without worrying you’re overselling him. You don’t. Because you’re not. After twenty years of one great disc after another, the kid from Kansas is back. Bearing maybe the best record he’s ever made, Neon Repairman. And its songs will keep you up nights, just like those bright lights of the title track.
Like most of the general public, you probably first heard Freedy when his chiming, catchy single, Bad Reputation, full of his trademark tunefulness and street-level lyrics hit the airwaves. The song was the opening salvo of Johnston’s masterpiece, This Perfect World, superbly-produced by the legendary Butch Vig, of Nirvana fame. Vig kept the record radio-friendly, but brought enough clarity so that Freedy’s characters, the lost, criminal and crazy, all came through loud and clear. These desperate people caught not just the average listener, but filmmakers The Farrelly Brothers. Soon, several of Johnston’s tunes showed up in their comedy Kingpin. Topping that achievement, in 1995, Rolling Stone Magazine named Johnston Songwriter Of The Year. Enough to bring color to any man’s face. But when you saw that number two was Kurt Cobain, well, Johnston must’ve really blushed. Rolling Stone made the right decision, too.