Now and then in American culture, the written word fuses the worlds of music and literature. Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize is only the most obvious example. An individual singer songwriter can sometimes embody that fusion in his life and work. That’s Johnny Irion, whose family tree includes John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie, and whose new record Driving Friend was backed by Blackwing, the artisan pencil makers with a diverse musical heritage.
The record, which includes members of Dawes, Wilco and the Mother Hips, ranges across a wide expanse of roots genres, from blues and gospel to folk and country. Everything about it feels authentically crafted, a carving out of raw, lived American experience that goes to the heart of the Blackwing ethos. Whether Irion is singing about Santa Barbara, Pittsfield or the Rapture, his sharp wit, telling description and brief character studies take us to a musical hometown of his own, quite a feat for a rocker whose last record with his band US Elevator was hailed by Rolling Stone as being as “lovingly handcrafted as the jeans on the back of After The Gold Rush.”