A true believer in the power of music

November 25, 2022
Inequality Boulevard

Inequality Boulevard
Dave Johnson
Launching at the Freo Social (Fremantle, WA) on December 1
Tickets available from Moshtix.
Proceeds to the Centre for Asylum Seekers,  Refugees and Detainees

Dave Johnson makes records infrequently, with care and usually with a purpose.

In common with Johnson’s two excellent previous records, Leavin’ Time and On a Clear Day, this collection is a well-produced set with a beautiful, generous sound.

Some of the characteristic Johnson flourishes are there, the close harmony, the use of violin, piano, and Johnson’s signature mandolin as part of the band in support of his distinctive, everyday kind of voice.

There is range of styles across the eight songs: rock ballads, rocked up bluegrass and reggae. The percussion hits a bit harder than in the previous outings. The album was made at Elliott Smith’s studio. Smith is great drummer. Maybe that has something to do with it.

All in all, it is a good, energetic record to listen to. It works when you pay attention. It works when you are in the next room.

Seven of the eight songs deal with big themes, and Johnson is usually looking outwards, observing.

Descriptions of characters struggling with demons, characters who might have stumbled out of one of Tim Winton’s books — displaced and raw. Some of the songs are written as second person conversations. Others are essays and inventories of wider social demons. It is big-hearted, genuine, and tough minded. In a world of narcissistic fluff and confected emotion, I love his ambition.

The song “Let the Anger Go” is slow, splendidly melodic, and beautifully done. Johnson’s voice, backed with female harmony, is at its most expressive and musical in this piece, which is a conversation, an observation, and a counsel around a character in pain and bereft. The accompaniment is poised, well composed. It all works and gets better with repeated listening, which is the test for me.

The title track, "Inequality Boulevard" is a bare and confronting switch between a story of everyday tragedy and the structurally protected amorality that surrounds wealth and power. Musically well done, and a gutsy piece of art.

“Fear and Anxiety”, “Nauru”, “Rage” “Euphoria” and “Paralysis Tango” are strong social commentary. These kinds of songs can be hard work, and the challenge is to let the listener’s imagination do the work and resist the temptation to lecture or spell it out. Johnson has something to say, and isn’t apologising for saying it. I think overall, the balance is found.

“Nauru” is told more in sorrow than anger and gets through because it blends the issue and the personal story, and because again, it is beautifully done. “Rage” is upbeat and asks the question “is there anything left that you would rage to defend”. In other words, “what do Australians even stand for”. Good question. “Fear and Anxiety” ispretty straight-forward. Sonically it uses electronic noise to get under your skin and a chord structure programmed for dread.

“Paralysis Tango” isn’t a tango. Rather, it is a slick, countryfied, bluegrassy romp overlaid with a satirical, wide-ranging commentary on the policy gridlock induced by vested interests, market forces and short-term politics. All that is a lot more fun than it sounds, especially if you love this sound, which a lot of folks do. It is pretty hard to argue with and it moves right along.

“Euphoria” cleverly explores issues about what happens when individuals, communities and nations lose the ability to stay connected to reality in a desperate rush to believe what they want to believe and to stay “up” amid competing ideologies. Musically, punchy; a three-minute sparring round.

The last song, “Golden Moon”, is a favourite. This is a gentle reggae homage to the pull and restorative power of of the Kimberley, a more personal theme, much more “just for the hell of it” with an infectious chorus and a really musical mandolin solo. What is not to like?

Good art. This record is definitely worth your time.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.