Nedra Johnson Wing
Review by Jed Ryan
Nedra Johnson NEDRA: A Review
"This is womyn's music, baby!" declares Nedra Johnson in the first song of her new CD "Nedra", and she repeats that declaration in "Shout Out" at the close of the CD when
she thanks her fans and supporters. Born to musician parents, Nedra is
a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist born and living in New York
City. Her live performances and debut album "Testify" received high
praises from her peers in the independent music scene, as well as from reviewers
in "The Advocate", "The Village Voice", "The New York
Blade", "HX for Her", "Variety", "The Hollywood
Reporter", and others. Nedra is a devoted and popular performer on the
envied Womyn's Circuit ("It was womyn's music that made a place for
me," she declares on "Ahha (It's A Good Thing)", the CD's first
track.), including the annual Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. But the
listener soon realizes that Nedra could steal the show anywhere she performs,
and likely with any audience.
"Nedra" is Ms. Johnson's second album. As her fans will testify, Nedra's persona and voice are big, bold, and dynamic, giving new meaning to the term "bringin' down da house". Yet "Nedra" the CD also explores a more tender, nurturing side to the artist. "Forever With Me" may as well be named "The Wedding Song": It's an elegant track with a feverish romanticism running underneath. The entire album packs a real wallop. It's not just Nedra's soulful, powerful voice that make "Nedra" stand out, although those may have seen her at an Open Mic know that her stripped-down guitar-and-vocals performances can stand on their own. Just as vital as her voice are her selection of musicians, her impeccable production values, and her lyrics that boldly and smartly explore feminism, sexuality, religion, tolerance, and her own life experiences. Her musicians (which include her father, Howard Johnson, on coronet, tuba, and horn arrangements) match her expertise and her energy level. Largely autobiographical, we don't have to wait long to hear Nedra's reflections on her own feelings about being "different"-- from childhood, right on through her spiritual awakening, and into her current music career. And of course, there's a good helping of love songs. But not just "silly love songs", as Paul McCartney would say. Nedra's not afraid to share with us her unabashed love songs to other women-- and they're lusty, sexual, sensual, and often nakedly candid (such as "New Boy Blues", "The World Could Stop Turning", and others). Her main style is blues-based R&B-- but Nedra's music also incorporates the essential raw earthiness and lyrical sincerity of folk music; and indeed, Nedra definitely embodies the strong, independent persona that's enjoyed by the women of rock 'n' roll as well. Nedra also incorporates rap and spoken word into her album, rapping on the infectiously catchy "So Good So Far" and featuring spoken word that reads like lesbian erotica in the risqué "The World Could Stop Turning". There are other genre-defying moments as well. "Sprung" is a jazz-flavored homage to the spring season, and the impeccably produced "New Boy Blues", with a dominance of trumpet, gives the listener the vision of Nedra as lounge singer in a smoky jazz club-- albeit a lounge singer who's not afraid to incorporate lesbian flavors into her music. But without a doubt, "Any Way You Need Her" is the highlight of the album: a high-spirited gospel at it's best, complete with "Hallelujahs". The song features renegade lyrics which dare to interpret Jesus in different personas-- including crunchy granola dyke and fierce gay man. In the hands of another artist who isn't as in touch with his or her spiritual side, such lyrics might seem patently written to shock the listener; but Nedra makes it clear that her intent is to remind us that God is how we interpret Him or Her, and it's time to take back those interpretations. This track features guest vocals by Nedra's brother, David Johnson. When Nedra and band performed "Anyway You Need Her" at her CD release party, one attendee in the audience, who was raised a Southern Baptist and spent seven years in reparative therapy for being gay, was clearly affected, as if you could hear him say to himself, "This is a song that finally speaks to ME!" "Michfest Blues" makes a snappy Southern-style ditty, with some deliciously dirty double entendres ("Girl you know I hate your dog, but baby I love your cat!...") Thankfully, Nedra isn't usually that "wink-wink" cryptic, or else she just wouldn't be Nedra! "Scooter Phat" (with God-Des) praises the beauty of larger women. "Prozac (So Fun Living, Not a Moment Dull)", the third track, features an easy-going melody and breezy lyrics that hook the listener into an ideal world for four minutes. Nedra doesn't give us a clue as to whether she's really praising the virtue's of the happy pill of the title, or if the song is a parody of our nation's addiction to anti-depressants, but nevertheless, it's a charmer.
Bonus tracks on "Nedra" include an alternate, tuba-infused version of "The World Could Stop Turning", and "Amazon", a song which starts out stark and poignant and increases in intensity and tempo as it progresses. The song was originally written and recorded by Maxine Feldman, a pioneer of queer music, in 1979. It's clearly a nod to one of Nedra's musical antecedents. But just one... for Nedra Johnson is truly a genre-buster, vision-wise and music-wise. I'm going to be so bold as to say that the self-titled "Nedra" is, hands-down, the finest album-- queer or otherwise-- to come out this season. Her impact is powerful whether she's on stage armed with just her guitar, or playing with her five-piece band. In "Nedra"'s opening track, "Ahha (It's A Good Thing)", Nedra declares, "All my life I've been a big mouth girl. Speak my mind, change the world. No hands but my hands, no voice but my voice; I'm gonna keep on telling the truth till I have no choice." The audience thanks her for that.
Learn more about Nedra at www.NedraJohnson.com.
PM Entertainment Magazine
StoneWall Society "Reviewer of the Year" 2005
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