Johnny Rivers' Shadows on the Moon Offers Fresh New Acoustic Music
by Terry Roland
There are voices that have followed us through our lives. We've heard them on our car radios as we've raced through the decades of our childhood. They have played like a soundtrack for our lives through the beaches, valleys, deserts and prairie roads we've traveled on our way to our present. Johnny Rivers carries such a voice. So much so, when he sings, we sit up and listen. We take notice because of our common history. When he first emerged in the mid-sixties at his now legendary engagements and live recordings at the Whiskey A-Go-Go, he created a tour de force that helped to break down the wall between pop and folk music. With recordings like "Where Have All The Flowers Gone," "Midnight Special" and "Memphis" he did what it took The Byrds five people to do; bring folk-rock to the musical stages of L.A. in the mid-sixties. His music played against the backdrop of merging of folk, rock and blues during the era of The Summer of Love when you were as likely to see Lightening Hopkins and Dave Van Ronk in Hollywood as you were to see The Doors or Otis Redding. Rivers absorbed these diverse forms of roots music into his own hybrid style which has carried his own folk-influenced trademark blues-rock style years beyond his last chart success.
For the last 25 years he's
been underrated and largely unnoticed by the music industry he helped to
establish back in the early 60's. So Rivers went his own way, recording
blues, jamming in Memphis, reviving sometimes lost musical forms like blue-eyed
soul, rockabilly, and country blues. He has remained a concert draw touring
around the world to capacity audiences.
This is an album of dimension and vision lacking in much of today's mainstream music. Through every moment of this musical journey--and 'journey' is a much overused term today, to be sure--it is Rivers' voice that leads the way. With a still youthful and assured quality in his voice, he provides the musical avenue we walk with a set of well-crafted songs uncommon to mainstream records today. There is a clear and soulful mandolin, played by Rivers himself, as well as bass fiddles, steel guitars, dobro and drums which lay levels and texture of pure acoustic music.
As well-crafted as the music
is, Shadows on the Moon is matched by strong material from songwriters
like Michael Georgiades(former partner of Bernie Leadon of The Eagles),
Jack Tempchin("Peaceful," "Easy Feeling," "Slow Dancin Swaying to the Music"),
and Jimmy Webb(well, you know Jimmy Webb-I hope). The first six songs of
the album are penned by Georgeiades, a long underrated songwriter. These
songs add a concept of cloaked messages about the passage of a generation
and the pull toward spirituality. Most significant of these songs are "Hard
Heart," "Somebody to Love" and the title track "Shadows on the Moon." "Hard
Heart" powerfully addresses the excesses and insensitivity of the political,
ethical and moral shortcomings of the Bush years in a clever way cloaked
in a love song. "Somebody to Love" is a prayer for the need for love in
While this album brings together a diversity of writing styles, instrumentation which clearly produces a feel of modern folk-rock, it never loses it's pop sensibility of appealing arrangements and accessible production which can play as just a feel good listen or allow a deeper listen into the insights of the writing and the soulful vocal Johnny Rivers brings to each song in his own unique way.
Finally, driving force and cohesive thread that runs through the album's concept, material and music is Rivers' distinct, familiar voice calling our memories back to the magic times we lived through but never allowing us the comfort of nostalgia. Instead, through some fine acoustic music, skillful songwriting, and that one-of-a kind voice, challenges us to find our life and passion in today's turbulent world.