The Magnolia Sessions is an acclaimed new singer/songwriter series which launched in early September 2020 with an album by Matt Heckler, followed in early October by an album from Jason Dea West. The series showcases bluegrass, dark country, and folk singer/songwriter acts in an intimate outdoor setting at the Anti-Corporate Music/Black Matter Mastering headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. The third title in their acclaimed new singer/songwriter series comes from Denver, Colorado-based country/folk artist Johno Leeroy Roberts. Johno called the session, “An intimate musical window into my personal life. All my songs are pretty much about my own downfalls and triumphs. I use song writing as an escape as well as therapy. People want to see the train wreck. They don’t want to watch you cruise around in a Prius. I would consider it not so traditional American song writing.” Johno was raised in bicentennial state Tennessee by his mother and older brother and started playing music and writing songs around the age of nine years old. Later in 2004, he would relocate to Colorado and end up in Denver. having always taken a liking to traditional country song writing influenced by Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Snow, Faron Young, and others.
The album opens with `Rest Easy` and a slowly strummed guitar and Johno`s deeply rich voice relating an eulogy to an unnamed friend but in his own honest style with a wonderful line of “some said you sold out, hell you barely bought in” This is the longest song on the release at just under four minutes. Although `Bass Boat` seems to be named after a boat for fishing for bass or other panfish it`s really where Johno is now, not quite a reformed character but smart enough to know to stay away from the triggers that caused problems in his life.
`Bent Poles` is another reflective number. The singer sitting on a rusty old tailgate with a friend listening to the UT game, The Tennessee Volunteers football. The chorus of “bent poles and honey holes they`re the better things in life” sums it up much better than I ever could. Unless I’ve got it wrong, it seems that the track `Weed Or Wine` relates to trying to get home to his partner as no weed or wine can compare to a night by her side.
`Wild` is a raw autobiographical recollection of where the singer`s come from to where he is now with a daughter who fulfils his life in another State although he misses his family especially when glancing up at the stars. Another recognition of the changes that Johno has undergone in life, is laid bare in the brutally honest `Higher Ground` There`s an aching contrition in his vocal delivery of this expression of remorse.
`Growing Up In The South` is partly a wonderful heartfelt tribute to his mom and her struggles to bring him and his brother up but also the difficulties of his adolescence due to alcohol and substance abuse. There`s a superb line in `Tired` that sort of sums it up with “work a lot for little pay” A simple tale of a working man.
`Davidson County` located in the heart of Middle Tennessee is where Johno grew up and a place he reminisces about as he takes his leave for a new chapter of his life. The chorus of “Goodbye Davidson County, poor intentions and broken dreams, Hello Rocky Mountains, mark me up like a postcard and deliver me” speaks volumes. We have a song about an old friend who is awaiting a pay off or pay check in `Twig` The acquaintance is fond of the drink and it would seem that the inevitable happened when his payment came through.
`Junebug` closes the album and it`s possibly about the impermanence of life and maybe wanting to leave a mark behind.
Johno Leeroy Roberts Magnolia Session is a superbly assembled set of songs of personal reflection. The session was recorded in the dark under a magnolia tree and you can hear crickets and cicadas in the background. At times it`s quite nostalgic but painfully honest as well and listening to these tracks you really root for this blue-collar troubadour. This guy has a wonderful inflection in his voice at times that reminded me of the late Hank Williams. A born storyteller who has lived a life and learnt from it.
A twenty first century Woody Guthrie.
Rating 9 /10