Freedy Johnston My Favorite Waste of Time
Let's face it: Discs of cover tunes have had the stench of death about them lately, primarily a desperate cry from heritage acts starving for airplay. Poetic, story-oriented singer-songwriter Freedy Johnston, author of the certified classics Can You Fly and This Perfect World, sidesteps such muck. Firstly, he has another CD of original gems in the offing next year. And on My Favorite Waste of Time (available at freedyjohnston.com), he's carefully chosen tracks by some of his heroes (Bacharach, McCartney, Porter), with results sunnier than Johnston's own dark, tricky songs: beautifully sung, unfussy, and fun, all done out of love, not desperation. Johnston drains the excess sugar from "Do You Know the Way to San José," adding a mocking pedal steel and turning it into a bittersweet cowboy song. Matthew Sweet's "I've Been Waiting" gets a band-like horn section, underscoring the original's warm spirits: When its aging protagonist tells his young girlfriend "You can wear my clothes," try not to sigh. The Hollies' "Bus Stop" is tricked out with an electric sitar straight from the swinging '60s (Ed Pettersen's witty production gets high marks throughout). Cole Porter's "Night and Day" is a summer breeze of a samba, Johnston's quavering tenor as vulnerable as a teenage heart. Could Time have used one less McCartney song? Yepa little whimsy goes a long way. But with definitive versions of Marshall Crenshaw's title tune and NRBQ's super-horny "I Want You Bad," surely that's just quibbling. Now bring on those originals.