Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Johnny Bregar

Johnny Bregar (also known as Johnny Breakdown or Johnny Brady Are) is a super soulful Seattle singer and songwriter (how's that for some alliteration?) who manages to sound a lot like Dr. John, Harry Connick Jr., Jack Johnson, Taylor Hicks and Lyle Lovett, while still sounding very original. He has two CDs, both of which are incredibly upbeat, infectious and fun.

Johnny's first CD, Stomp Yer Feet!, focuses mainly on traditional kids' songs like "If You're Happy and You Know It", "B-I-N-G-O", "Polly Wolly Doodle", "This Old Man", etc. Like Little Nashville, Johnny has found a way to make each of these classics new and fresh while still retaining the spirit of the original. Johnny stays closer to the traditional kind of acoustic folk arrangements that these songs feel most at home with, but the playing is top notch and never gets dull, even though some of the songs go on pretty long (but hey, it's not his fault that "This Old Man" had to play all the way up to ten). And some tracks really spice things up with some great electric piano, organ, ukulele, banjo and other instruments.

Johnny's voice is very seasoned and belies his age (unless he's a lot older than he looks?), and he can carry some pretty heavy tunes with what seems like effortless ease. But it's the little details in his vocal phrasing that really sell his songs, like the cool way he says "uh huh" in "Froggy Went a Courtin'" or the gentle rasp that aches through "Toora Loora". And his version of "Waltzing Matilda" may have finally sold me on that song, which I was only kind of "meh" about before.

Hootenanny, Johnny's second CD, includes a few more traditional songs like "Five Little Monkeys" (done in a swinging Stray Cats style with some nice Harmon mute trumpet) and "Miss Mary Mack" (with a hoppin' Cajun backbeat), but focuses more on original songs, which are mostly in the same style as the tunes he covers. I'm not sure that his originals like "Blue Dog", "Best Friend", "Blackberry Pie" or "Owl" will become classics like "If You're Happy and You Know It" or "You Are My Sunshine", but they are very catchy and it's telling that they stand along so well on the same albums as those standards. The only thing that seems a little out of place is the song "Moon" on Stomp Yer Feet! It's a great song on its own, but the style is more modern and feels a little unusual among the rest of the traditional tunes on that CD.

I'm all for people doing something unique with their music and finding their own creative voice, and though Johnny Bregar's songs would seem to hearken way back to days of yore and territory that is oft-covered, I'm not aware of anyone else doing kids' music, traditional or otherwise, with his kind of style and soul. Bravo, Johnny!

Johnny Bregar website

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