The Best Thing You Did Yesterday (Independent)
Danny Johnson

By Tim Roberts

A rowdy roadhouse where dancin' was everything. Lonely elderly people needing someone to say, "Hello in there." A teen-ager's room in the night with a radio playing the songs he loves. A guy and his girl in the tunnel of love at a seedy boardwalk amusement park. The performers who describe these scenarios in their songs all use their music to evoke a feeling through descriptions of common experiences. It helps that those feelings are communicated with music that has simple instrumentation that mirrors the lyrics: acoustic and electric instruments woven together in a rootsy jamboree that, if the songs didn't have words, you could tell they might be about the people you'd find working at a state highway gas station, one that still has a mechanic on duty, the rubber hoses you drive over to make the bell clang inside to let them know you're there and an Ale 8 vending machine out front.

Southern Indiana's Danny Johnson has just released a debut recording loaded with songs about those places and those people, The Best Thing You Did Yesterday and it sounds as if John Mellencamp, John Prine, Tim Krekel and Bruce Springsteen formed a supergroup and had someone act as a frontman to sing their words.

That doesn't mean Best Thing is derivative in any way. All of Johnson's songs are originals, but under the production guidance of Tim Krekel himself and engineering by Jeff Carpenter (whose Reel to Real Studio has been the recording place of choice for many other local roots-rock and country artists such as Krekel, Heidi Howe, Bryan Hurst and Lexington's Crown Electric). However, it is hard to imagine the songs sounding any other way.

We get hit full blast with the opening track "Never Love a Woman (Who Drives a Pick-Up Truck)," then mellow into "She's Gone with the Wind," a breakup song that quotes a line from the famous movie and novel that shares part of the title, when Johnson sings, "Frankly, I don't give a damn and you believe it until the pain sets in." He also sings about a Skoal-dipping wife whom he wishes can't leave soon enough in "There's the Door." We also get the tender touches with "Hometown Tour," "Castles in the Sand," and a tribute to his veteran grandfather in "Thanks Is What I'd Say," all of which come across as heartfelt and honest, not maudlin and syrupy, or even cynical.

Johnson is backed by some of the city's best session players, including Krekel, bassist Jim Baugher and drummers Aaron Montgomery, Mike Alger and Tom Gudding. Joining the lineup is Jeff Gurnsey on fiddle, Janis Pruitt and Laura Goins on backing vocals and Dan Goins on mandolin.

No, not all of us have been through a tunnel of love or spent a steamy evening dancing in a crowded club. Not all of us are lonely, elderly, alienated. But at some point we've had our parents or older relatives take us on a tour of the places where they grew up, told us stories of the people they knew who only exist in snapshots of memory. We've loved people we knew would be dangerous for us, who had unhealthy habits we'd never think of doing ourselves.

That's why the songs of people like Tim Krekel, John Mellencamp, John Prine and Bruce Springsteen speak to us. At some point, they're singing about our lives.

Add another name and record to that list: Danny Johnson's The Best Thing You Did Yesterday.