Johnny and the Moon | Johnny and the Moon (Kill Devil Hills)

cd_johnnymoonLike the kindergartner who refuses to quietly return the instruments to the box at the end of class time, the album ends with someone giving one last impulsive jingling of the wind chimes.





Remember kindergarten music class? Triangles and bells to rattle and chime, wood blocks to clack-clack and pie pans to rat-a-tat-tat. That fearless "everything's an instrument" attitude infuses Johnny and the Moon's self-titled album with disarming enthusiasm. The band's MySpace page apologizes for "disorganized and flakey behavior of late," but if these 11 tracks are the result of flakiness, no apologies are necessary.

Johnny and the Moon was founded by Dante DeCaro, former guitarist for new wave-inspired Hot Hot Heat. It seems that DeCaro got about as far away from that sound as possible, returning to his hometown on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Once there, he renovated a barn into a studio and brought together like-minded friends who sought to dig deep into that mental kindergarten music box and play American folk songs. With friend Lindy Gerrard handling percussion, DeCaro played out around Victoria and Vancouver before moving to Montreal to join indie rock outfit Wolf Parade. That band's 2005 debut Apologies to the Queen Mary has its rollicking moments, but DeCaro kept Johnny and the Moon true to its folk-inspired roots with simply arranged songs performed with instruments ranging from banjo and acoustic guitar to saxophone and a drum set made of garbage cans.

It's fitting that the first track is "Green Rocky Road," a reinterpretation of "Green, Green Rocky Road." If it sounds familiar, you may have heard it performed by Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, or dozens of other performers. Bandmates DeCaro, Gerrard, and Mark Devoe make it their delightful own, with a bit on the harmonica that is followed by what sounds like the aforementioned clackity blocks. It's easily the best song on the CD. I continued humming it for days, despite my eleven year-old's constant singsong rendition of "Cupid's Chokehold" by Gym Class Heroes.

"Green Rocky Road" serves as fertile ground for a collection of original songs that feel new, yet familiar. Take "The Ballad of Scarlet Town." Listening to it, one can imagine huddling around a campfire beneath the inky night sky when suddenly, someone begins strumming a mandolin. The fellow next to you begins to sing, "Well I am a troubled boy from the hills that you know…" Next you hear a tambourine and a bit of harmonica. You're dying to clap along, but you're too cool for that, aren't you? It's all over though when the singer admonishes, "Don't tell me what to reap and what to sow!" No matter that you and your brethren have moved on to goth, punk, electronica, and metal. You surrender your artifice to clap and snap and join in choruses of, "Whoa-oh-oh-ohhhhhh!"

Recorded in just a week, Johnny and the Moon features sometimes melancholy, sometimes riotous songs about, as the band puts it, "a boy named Johnny, a mountain, a satanic cult, and the moon." While the second half of the album isn't quite as good as the first, there's definitely a common musical thread that runs through. "Oleanna" begins with whom I presume is DeCaro commanding, "Less banjo, a little bit." The song is not my favorite, although it does conjure up childhood memories of trips to Branson, Mo., where we'd invariably attend the Presleys' Mountain Music Jubilee. It's, how should I put it, "old-timey."

I do like the tenth song, "Tamed a Lion." It sounds like a reprise of the eerie second track, "Kid Heaven," only this time, a toy piano plinks out the melody in place of a synthesizer. The track seemingly ends, then segues into a snippet that sounds like a yelpy mistake. Finally, it's time to wrap up the band's tale with "When I Die," a song one can easily imagine Modest Mouse performing in all their indie glory. Like the kindergartner who refuses to quietly return the instruments to the box at the end of class time, the album ends with someone giving one last impulsive jingling of the wind chimes.

The takeaway? Pop this CD in your car's player this summer and sing along shamelessly. I did. B+ | Rebecca Reardon

RIYL: Wolf Parade, Modest Mouse, Handsome Furs

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