Braving an unseasonably cold evening rain, reporters, friends and supporters of Carolyn Dawn Johnson convened at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater Tuesday (April 13) to hear the Canadian singer-songwriter preview material from her forthcoming album, Dress Rehearsal.
Johnson, who wore a black vest and faded jeans, fronted a tight, five-piece band and relied on the emotional force of her music — rather than stage antics and bubbly rhetoric — to keep the crowd’s interest.
“Most of these songs have stories behind them,” she said, after opening the show with “Simple Life,” her current single. Introducing the album’s title cut, she continued, “The reason I wrote this song is because I believe that in life you just get one shot.” With that, she moved into the lyrics that conclude “time is irreversible/This ain’t no dress rehearsal.”
Setting up “We Talked,” Johnson explained, “It’s all about some irritation in a relationship and how important it is to talk about it.” Of the 12 songs on Dress Rehearsal, Johnson co-wrote 11.
“Have you ever had a day you wished you were somebody else?” Johnson asked rhetorically. “This [song] is about a day you’re glad you’re who you are.” Then she sang “God Doesn’t Make Mistakes.” She followed with the exuberant “Head Over High Heels,” a rhapsody to falling in love she co-wrote with Shaye Smith.
Up to this point in the show, Johnson had been playing acoustic guitar. Then stagehands carried in an electric piano. “I started playing piano when I was 5 and actually taught piano lessons,” she told the crowd. She said some songs on the new album relied heavily on piano. Then she introduced one of them, “Just Another Plane,” a co-write with Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Charlie Black. She said she was riding a Greyhound bus from Edmonton to Calgary to visit her brother when she passed an airport and, as the planes were coming in, she thought “just another plane.” Then it occurred to her that this certainly wasn’t the case for the people waiting for the planes. Thus came the idea for “Just Another Plane.” “I’ve been hanging on to it for years,” she said, “hoping to get it on a record.”
Still seated at the piano, Johnson switched from the theme of reuniting to the theme of separation in “I’ll Let You Go,” one of the few story songs on the album.
Johnson reclaimed her guitar to lead the band through the stomping and scolding “Squeezin’ the Love Outta You,” the evening’s most dynamic offering. She closed with the teen-tinged effusion, “My Little Secret.”
Responding to a standing ovation, the singer returned to the stage, exclaiming, “I was hoping you’d do that because I really wanted to play this song.” The song in question was “Die of a Broken Heart,” a slice of pure country misery. Johnson capped the proceedings with “I Don’t Want You to Go,” a hit single from her first album.
Dress Rehearsal, on Arista Records, will be in stores May 4.