The Trouble Tree
Johnston’s debut is substantially different to the crafted and economical approach he’d take on subsequent albums; The Trouble Tree sounds like the work of a bar band, disarmingly hard rocking in places. There’s a general aura of economy surrounding The Trouble Tree; not only does it sound like a live in the studio recording with questionable sound quality, but it also features possibly the worst cover art I’ve ever encountered. As amateur and rough edged as it is, The Trouble Tree has its moments; Johnston’s scrawny white boy vocals have plenty of character, there are some definite good songs, and it’s fascinating to hear Johnston cranking out surprisingly heavy guitar riffs. ‘No Violins’ is terrific, underpinned by a funky acoustic rhythm guitar riff and bass line, a terrific lead break and energetic vocals, with lyrics justifying the record’s rough and ready approach (“here’s a song that’s got everything you want/except no violins”), while ‘Bad Girl’ also demonstrates an otherwise undisclosed talent for propulsive acoustic riffs. The distorted ‘Little Red-Haired Girl’ tears up far more than you’d expect a Freedy Johnston song to, while the acoustic ‘Tucumcari’ is another winner, much more representative of Johnston’s later work. Some of these songs, however, are just plain awkward; with the frequent spoken lines (“I’m going to win you a stuffed rabbit” in ‘Fun Ride’) and underdeveloped themes (‘Nature Boy’). The Trouble Tree is likeable, but it’s a false start to Johnston’s solo career, out of step with his later work. If you’re already a fan it’s certainly revealing to hear how his style developed, but in terms of quality it’s some distance from his best.