John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light – Beautiful Empty

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HOT RELEASE – March 2010 – #1 OTB (out of the box)

John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light – Beautiful Empty

I’ve know John Common for several years now. I’ve either booked John solo, in a band (Rainville), or done some acoustic gigs with him… all told probably a hundred times (easily) over the years – and that doesn’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen him perform where I didn’t book the show. I own every one of his records (at least that I know of), and have played cuts from all of them on The Colorado Sound over the years. So, when asked if I’d write down my impressions of his newly released John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light – Beautiful Empty (Free School Records, 2010) I deemed it an auspicious personal challenge. Objectivity flies out the window when you’re this close to someone else’s most intimately crafted art (edit: esp that of a friend).

In Rainville, John explored his alterna-roots rock-gutter jazz-county folk vision of life in America, taking us on a journey down a road “between two towns,” along barren stretches of gravelly whisky-voiced grit and dust packed in alongside a “convenience store killer,” “broken flower,” and “five-dollar shower.” Let’s call that John Common 1.0. That journey ended somewhere around 2004.

John Common 2.0 showed John weary of the road, and actually may have begun with a request to record a duet with Opie Gone Bad lead vocalist Jake Schroeder in 2004/2005; the Beatles classic “Dear Prudence” (released on Mountain Homegrown Vol. 4). The fact of circumstances – however vague – does not diminish the newly-classic reworking of the song, nor the style in which John 2.0 emerged, the noise-folk-art rock bridge of Good To Be Born (Free School Records, 2006). Here, John along with co-producer Scott Davies (drummer for Opie Gone Bad), reached out and grabbed onto what I perceived to be the muse of Brian Wilson, recording layers upon layers of sound that in effect appeared aurally as a photograph with such depth-of-field to nearly appear three dimensional. This team, including Jeremy Lawton as mix master, finished this journey as Why Birds Fly (Free School Records 2007) in a seamless fashion, making more noise and becoming much more incoherent and messy. I could tell by this record and in conversations with my friend that he had once again become uneasy, unsettled, and needed to “get in the car and drive.” Only where to was the question … for all of us including John.

Enter John Common 3.0, with Blinding Flashes of Light and the record Beautiful Empty (Free School Records, 2010). I’ve always thought John exuded a certain kind of emptiness — not of the kind you’d see in the eyes of soul stealers, but more like he empties his soul with every word he writes and every note he sings and so becomes empty all over again, until the next filling and emptying and so on and so on…that kind of emptiness. I have heard that JC 3.0 started as John traversed Eastern Europe sometime around 2008, perhaps as I’ve heard and read that he felt he had nothing left to say musically. I have also heard that JC 3.0 happened when John returned from Europe and met singer-songwriter Jess DeNicola. Jess certainly brings out yet another side of John we’ve never heard before. There’s tenderness in John’s voice singing with Jess that I haven’t heard before — a dreamy wistfulness he toyed with in John Common 2.0 but didn’t quite realize somehow. Jess brings that out in him…she’s perfect in the role, matching him emotionally every single step of the way – as clear and as powerful and meaningful in phrase and voicing – forging a singularity of voice uncommon among most male-female singing duos.

Throwing objectivity straight the hell out the window, this is the most complete John Common record yet. It is truly one of the most endearing and magnificent albums I’ve ever had in my collection. The lyrics are those of the poet–laureate, insightful, and glaringly crisp in their focus. The music is the equal to anything ever done by any great pop music arranger. Beautiful Empty is full of mystery, intrigue, loneliness, pain, and searching — and there’s no direct answers here…there’s no salvation, no redemption – although there is hope, optimism. All put together we get one of the most sophisticated and intelligent adult pop records of the past several decades. It’s John traveling as he has always, only this time his journey moves far past the gritty highways of Rainville and the messy existentialism of Why Birds Fly.

If it’s possible that song titles are any indication at all they say what needs to be said about John’s vision of himself and of life … Can You Hear Me, Same Scar, Wide Open World, Good Heart, In My Neighborhood make up the first half of the album before “intermission” (track six). Thinking About God concludes the second chapter … but before we get there, we visit Walter Whitman; experience how Love Is A Shark; Turnaround; Don’t Follow Virginia; and hear about The Man Who Could — that would be John .. who could and does in JC 3.0 show us he has much more beautiful emptiness to share.

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