In this day and age, when the concept of escaping the rat race is sometimes just not looking at social media for a couple of days, Oregonian Nels Johnson did it old school and went to the Greek island of Ios. The time he spent examining what he wanted from life, far away from the screaming cacophony of the modern world, became the basis for his latest album, appropriately titled Ios.
Broadly speaking, this is a folk, singer-songwriter record. The arrangements, though, range from the lushness of Her Memories to a sparse Rest, about the questionable goal of killing yourself just to get ahead. Also in that vein of musical scarcity is American Dream, a lonely voice recounting the irony of an immigrant worker sending money abroad so his family can live the American Dream he’s given up on for himself. Surrender is just Johnson and his guitar singing about the need to give up control and embrace what the world sends your way.
More upbeat is Wake Me Up, featuring Kathryn Claire on fiddle and vocal harmonies. It’s a wish to not be someone who just goes through life on automatic pilot, never really experiencing what it’s like to really be alive. Another Peace Of Mind extends the metaphor of “woke up screaming late in the night” as it relates to dealing with the world’s troubles, from pandemic to climate change. The CD finishes with Holy Men, a melancholy recollection set off by the funeral announcement on a rural radio station.
While Ios isn’t exactly an upbeat record, it pulls up short of actually being sad or maudlin. Instead, Nels Johnson, with co-producers Bryan Appel and Casey Anderson, uses a restrained touch to deliver a beautiful respite from the overproduced sound on so much of popular music. Just like spending time on a picturesque island in the Aegean Sea.