Ten songs into Johnsmith's fifth album Break Me Open, the folksinger begins singing "Box Elder" by referring to a Federal Express delivery man. Never mind that the song is one of the few on the disc that Johnsmith didn't write himself, or that it is, as its title suggests, a tribute to a type of maple tree.
The intrusion of a corporate mail carrier is a shocking reminder that Johnsmith actually lives in 21st century America. For most of this record, you could imagine that the world he describes is some timeless rural paradise. Johnsmith is a song poet of the open landscape and, not surprisingly, the open road (he claims to play upwards of 150 dates a year, and that takes some traveling). He is a keen observer of the outdoors, whether he is describing a box elder (in the words of L.J. Booth), "Silver Creek," or even "Pothole Season." Naturally, those observations are the outward manifestations of an inner emotional world; the broken streets and winter weather of "Pothole Season" reflect the singer's somber mood, just as "Barefoot in the Dew" expresses a more hopeful one. And hopefulness is the viewpoint he takes toward love in such songs as "Honest Truth," "Messy Thing," and bandmate Darrell Scott's "Love's Not Through with Me," all of which hold out the possibility of romance. Of course, the association of spring with life must be contrasted with the relationship between winter and death, and if "Pothole Season" is about enduring, when Johnsmith comes to write about the death of one of his brothers, he again emphasizes nature and environment, calling the song "Cold Cold Ground" and repeating those words over and over. The music is in keeping with the language and sentiments. Johnsmith augments his acoustic guitar fingerpicking and sensitive tenor singing with a small string band calling upon banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, fiddle, and bass, along with occasional flutes and whistles. If it weren't for Federal Express, this would make for a perfect pastoral portrait.
|Back to the Mystery / Johnsmith||Johnsmith||5:14|
|Pothole Season / Johnsmith||Johnsmith||3:23|
|Honest Truth / Julie Baker / Johnsmith||Johnsmith||3:47|
|Cold Cold Ground / Johnsmith||Johnsmith||3:53|
|Messy Thing / Johnsmith||Johnsmith||3:46|
|Barefoot in the Dew / Johnsmith||Johnsmith||4:05|
|Silver Creek / Johnsmith||Johnsmith||4:35|
|Love's Not Through with Me / Darrell Scott||Johnsmith||5:03|
|Break Me Open / Johnsmith||Johnsmith||3:46|
|21 Miles / Johnsmith||Johnsmith||3:48|
|So Here's to You / Alan Bell||Johnsmith||4:24|