‘Highway Signs and Highway Lines’ from Thomas Johnston - gentle, poignant, reflective folk(August 02, 2013)
I’ve just spent time listening to an album of gentle, poignant, reflective folk from Thomas Johnston called ‘Highway Signs and Highway Lines’. In his own words he writes and sings ‘Irish Americana’, and much as I steer away from the confines of definition, that description hits the proverbial nail squarely on the head. Thomas tells mature stories in a soft voice, with descriptions designed to pull you into the narrative and take you on the journey. This is a man who has travelled more than a few roads and followed many signs along the way, and he shares that experience through this album.
There are twelve original, personal songs that express an acceptance of change, the realisation that the road goes on forever and that we are nothing more than travellers for a short while. Listen to the depth of ‘A Less Travelled Road’ or the understanding of the title track, ‘Highway Signs and Highway Lines’ and you’re there alongside him. There are also tough narratives with a tale of hard working Irish heritage in America with ‘On Our Way To Butte, Montana’ and the plaintiff tale of Irish history in ‘The Coming Of An Gorta Mor’.
Thomas writes songs with clean unassuming melodies linked to powerful lyrics. You may not walk his roads or share his encounters, but within these songs you may find a common thread. The fragile emotion of ‘Heading To Bundoran’ is more a song about hope than love but it’s message could touch everyone, as does the simple companionship expressed in ‘You Take Me’, while ‘Two Shorten The Road’ offers a finely expresssed understanding of sharing life’s times.
Since I first heard ‘Highway Signs and Highway Lines’ I’ve revisited it numerous times and each time it offers the charm and familiarity a much-read letter from an old friend. And I shall without doubt, return many more times.
Reviewer: Tim Carroll