Musique en ligne

MOLLY JOHNSON

Author, Performer

Country : Canada

Link : www.mollyjohnson.com


Molly Johnson's voice evokes the aura of dark, smoky night clubs of a bygone era. It speaks to an emotional depth that few vocalists in any genre ever reach. Like the woman behind it, it is a voice filled with humour, joy, surprise, sassiness and, of course, love. It is also a voice that has long deserved a wider audience. With her last CD, 2003's Another Day, becoming a major hit in France and receiving widespread critical kudos and respectable sales in every country in which it was released, it seems clear that Molly's time has finally come.

The product of a white mother and a black father, Johnson's story starts in the mid-sixties when as a young grade schooler, she and her brother, Clark Johnson, were tapped by legendary Toronto producer Ed Mirvish to appear in Porgy and Bess at the Royal Alex Theatre. In time Porgy and Bess was followed by South Pacific, Finian's Rainbow and other now-classic musicals. The budding child star was soon enrolled the National Ballet School as she desired to become a choreographer.

Not too far from school was the Colonial Tavern where two friends of Taborah Johnson, Molly's older sister, Shawn Jackson and Dominic Troiano (later of James Gang and the Guess Who), routinely held court, playing set after set of R&B fueled by a number of songs that Jackson and Troiano had written. Molly was taken with the idea of writing songs and, while ballet school was cool, the future chanteuse began to think of herself as a potential songwriter.

By the age of fifteen, Molly was fronting a disco band with the ignominious name Chocolate Affair. The group lasted just over a year. "I couldn't stand singing 'Love to Love You Baby'," grimaces Johnson. "I wanted to perform original material."

Chocolate Affair was followed in 1979 by Alta Moda (Ital ...

Molly Johnson's voice evokes the aura of dark, smoky night clubs of a bygone era. It speaks to an emotional depth that few vocalists in any genre ever reach. Like the woman behind it, it is a voice filled with humour, joy, surprise, sassiness and, of course, love. It is also a voice that has long deserved a wider audience. With her last CD, 2003's Another Day, becoming a major hit in France and receiving widespread critical kudos and respectable sales in every country in which it was released, it seems clear that Molly's time has finally come.

The product of a white mother and a black father, Johnson's story starts in the mid-sixties when as a young grade schooler, she and her brother, Clark Johnson, were tapped by legendary Toronto producer Ed Mirvish to appear in Porgy and Bess at the Royal Alex Theatre. In time Porgy and Bess was followed by South Pacific, Finian's Rainbow and other now-classic musicals. The budding child star was soon enrolled the National Ballet School as she desired to become a choreographer.

Not too far from school was the Colonial Tavern where two friends of Taborah Johnson, Molly's older sister, Shawn Jackson and Dominic Troiano (later of James Gang and the Guess Who), routinely held court, playing set after set of R&B fueled by a number of songs that Jackson and Troiano had written. Molly was taken with the idea of writing songs and, while ballet school was cool, the future chanteuse began to think of herself as a potential songwriter.

By the age of fifteen, Molly was fronting a disco band with the ignominious name Chocolate Affair. The group lasted just over a year. "I couldn't stand singing 'Love to Love You Baby'," grimaces Johnson. "I wanted to perform original material."

Chocolate Affair was followed in 1979 by Alta Moda (Italian for High Style), a funky art rock group formed by Johnson in conjunction with Norman Orenstein that was a seminal part of Toronto's dynamic Queen Street scene. Signed to Sony, Alta Moda released a solitary self-titled album from which the single "Julian" became an FM hit. The core of Alta Moda morphed into the harder rocking Infidels who proceeded to sign with IRS, releasing an eponymously titled album in 1991 from which both "100 Watt Bulb" and "Celebrate" attained domestic hit status.

While Johnson was trying to make headway in the world of rock and roll with both Alta Moda and Infidels, she began a parallel career as a jazz singer.

"I started singing the American song book because I was trying to learn how to write a melody and write a good pop tune," explains Johnson. "There wasn't a lot of melody in Alta Moda. It was more vibe and attitude. I thought I should go to the masters, the originators of popular music--Gershwin, Ellington and the rest of the Tin Pan Alley greats." As her new CD attests, Johnson learned her lessons well.

By 1992, IRS Records had unfortunately lost interest in the Infidels. Despondent over her second record deal gone bad, Johnson turned her substantial energies to mounting a star-laden benefit concert that she dubbed Kumbaya, raising money for charities working with HIV and AIDs.

"Kumbaya was in direct retaliation," stresses Johnson with not a small bit of rancor. "I could either sit in my basement and get really bitter and grumpy and freaked out or I could open up my phone book and do that Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney thing and put on a big show!"

For the next four years Kumbaya was an annual event, raising over one million dollars to help battle the ravages of AIDs. While the festival has been on hiatus ever since Johnson was pregnant with her first son, she plans to restage the event in the near future.

By the late 1990s Johnson had started her family and, being burned twice by record companies, was contemplating giving up on the music business. "I wasn't really up for making another record," she declares. "I was just burnt out. I thought there's gotta be something else I can do."

Into the void that had become Johnson's career stepped Toronto songwriter and producer Steve MacKinnon who suggested that Molly try and write some songs with him. The partnership proved to be fruitful and after a dozen or so songs were past the gestation stage, MacKinnon declared, "I think we have a record."

The self-titled jazz-pop CD Molly Johnson, recorded in MacKinnon's living room and featuring a guest appearance by French jazz legend Stephan Grappelli, was issued to critical acclaim in 2000. Unfortunately, Johnson's record company, Song Corp., went bankrupt shortly after the disc's release, leaving Molly once again high and dry. Three years later, Johnson recorded her second jazz-pop release, Another Day, which through a series of fortuitous events led to her becoming a bonafide star in France. Messin' Around builds on the strength of her first two CDs and sees Johnson poised on the brink of widespread crossover success. Recorded in fourteen days with a core band consisting of her long standing collaborators drummer Mark McLean, bassist Mike Downes, flute and saxophonist Colleen Allen, guitarist Rob Pilch and pianist Andrew Craig, Johnson opted to record her vocals "live" off the floor alongside the band, eschewing overdubs altogether.

"To me that is what a good jazz record should be," stresses Johnson. "It was all in the performance. We didn't mess with it. We left it as it happened. It's so low-fi! My thing is with every song I should be able to stand and sing it alone with no accompaniment and it should work. That's how I test songs to see if they hold up."

The result is extraordinarily engaging mature pop for a sophisticated audience as Johnson skillfully integrates her well honed melodic skills, artful Tin Pan Alley style lyrics, jazz phrasing and overall pop sensibility. Perhaps what's most impressive is the breadth of influences that run through the album's twelve tunes. While the title track and "Sunday" are hip pop tunes, "If You Know Love" is a coy come on with Molly adopting the persona of a 1920s flapper, "Let's Waste Some Time" is infused with a hint of bossa nova, "Tristes Souvenir" is French chanson replete with an old world clarinet and accordion arrangement and Johnson's quirky cover of Prince's little known "Tangerine" is an ersatz hybrid of pop, funk and jazz that should get most listeners dancing around their living rooms full of unabashed joy and wonder that music can be so invigorating, fun and life affirming.

While most of Messin' Around is upbeat, the disc's two most powerful performances, the Johnson-MacKinnon penned "Rain" and a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," are harrowing in their emotional impact. The latter was suggested by Johnson's French record company due to its resonance with Johnson's ongoing work for AIDs victims. The former is testimony to the formidable level of her songwriting partnership with MacKinnon.

"The thing that propels me to perform is song writing," affirms Johnson. "Stage performance is the by product. I gotta go out and perform because otherwise I won't sell any records and they won't let me make another one. But, what I really love is writing songs and making records."

Messin' Around is a moving testimony to Johnson's drive to write and record. It is mature music making by a vocalist at the absolute peak of her powers, totally in command of her voice, her vocal technique and her emotions. It's the work of a song stylist who, after decades of developing her art, has reached the level of the finest masters of the art of jazz-pop singing.

File Messin' Around right next to the recordings of other jazz-pop sensations such as Diana Krall, Michael Buble and Cassandra Wilson. Molly Johnson's time has come.

For more information on Molly Johnson, please contact

Mima Agozzino

Universal Music Canada

National Artist and Media Relations

p: 416.718.4107

e: mima.agozzino@umusic.com

Molly JOHNSON

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