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03/24/12

Molly Johnson
The Molly Johnson Songbook
A440 Music Group

A dozen years have passed since Molly Johnson took a sharp left turn, departing the hard-edged world of art-rock bands Alta Moda and the Infidels for richer jazz pastures. Her star has since risen considerably in her native Canada, and she’s earned near-equal popularity across France. But it wasn’t until the release of her fifth solo album, 2008’s Lucky, that Johnson started gaining traction south of the 49th parallel. Stateside listeners have some catching up to, and this 16-track compilation is just the ticket.

Lucky, from which four selections are included here, was also the first Johnson album composed almost exclusively of covers (including her killer, Phil Dwyer-arranged “Ode to Billie Joe”). Earlier albums showcased the ferocity of her songwriting skills (or, rather, co-writing skills), extending from the call-and-response infectiousness of “My Oh My” and countrified pragmatism of “Diamond in My Hand” to the stark heartache of “Triste Souvenirs” and the fractured lilt of “It’s Only Love,” on which Johnson’s unmistakable vocal kinship with Billie Holiday is most evident.

If Johnson has a signature tune, it is surely “Let’s Waste Some Time” (crafted by Steve MacKinnon with Marc Jordan), a shimmering Holiday-meets-Chet-Baker ode to slow-boiling desire. This collection also introduces two previously unreleased tracks, with Johnson deftly tracing the serpentine flow of Daniel Lanois’ “Still Water” and serving up a delectably stealthy “Just One of Those Things.” Surprisingly, though, Johnson’s stunning interpretation of Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia,” arguably the apex of her canon, didn’t make the cut.

Originally published in March 2012
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