For close to two decades, Will Johnson has been all over the map, crafting songs under his own name, with various co-writers, and of course, with Centro-matic. For the most part, his music has always had a sort of country-shade to it, and his voice has always made it heart-wrenching, no matter the lyrical content. But, on Candidate Waltz, there’s more of an uplifting construction to the songs, giving you an album that could be considered his most widely accessible work to date.
You can easily discern that there’s going to be a sharper, polished sound on Candidate Waltz the minute “Against the Line” drops in with it’s sharp guitar chords. Of course, the fragility in Johnson’s voice remains, creating an interesting juxtaposition that allows the song to be absorbed by your soul on multiple levels. Jagged guitar lines cut through the following track, “All the Talkers,” with the group sounding a bit like a more rocking version of Lucero, but the interesting aspect of this song comes in near the final two minutes. The track switches from a gritty rocker into this carefully crafted pop lullaby ending, created by the melodious backing vocals; this is perhaps one of the brightest moments on the record.
If you’re looking for that classic Centro-matic sound, with Johnson’s voice pulling at your gut strings, you’ll find that those songs, too, live within the confines of this latest effort. “Estimate x 3” relies upon a time-keeping drum beat, quiet guitar lines, and Will. The gruff quality of his voice always makes him seem so vulnerable, and that has consistently made his tracks seem tragic, yet towards the end of this number, as he repeats “give me what you want/don’t tell me” you can sense a softer side emerging in his work.
It’s going to be difficult to find something that allows you to disregard Candidate Waltz. There’s sweeping melodies, great song arrangements, and really, there aren’t any misstep songs. “Only in My Double Mind” has a banging piano and drum to start it off, while Johnson’s vocals do a great job carrying the melody throughout, giving you a short glimpse at just how powerful his voice can be, even when the music doesn’t appear to be the most innovative. There’s a gentleness to the way he croons “ooh ooh,” providing those mono-syllabic moments with bits of depth you typically don’t see. And the record finishes off with much the same fashion as it begins, bringing a warm rocker to your ears by the name of “If They Talk You Down.” It shouldn’t cease to amaze you how emotionally charged Will’s vocals come across, even when he’s just using his voice as an instrument. Personally, the gentle strings in the background make this track another standout.
There’s not a bad thing to say about Candidate Waltz, no matter how many times you listen to it, unless of course, you wanted more songs. But, the brevity of the experience, combined with Will Johnson’s powerful voice provides listeners with more than enough to swoon over, just before Centro-matic wraps it all up. The best thing is that as soon as it ends, you’ll want to start if all over again. And again.
Download: Centro-matic – Only In My Double Mind [MP3]