Originally paying his dues supporting the likes of Martin Carthy and Gordon Giltrap on the 70s folk circuit, Wirral-born maverick Dean Johnson has since pursued parallel careers in music and the theatre. An accomplished writer of stage musicals, his credits include West End productions such as the Wilfred Owen-related Bullets And Daffodils, while a sporadic solo career has yielded a dozen quirkily-titled LPs including Dead Pan Alley and The Training Of The Shoe.
Such pun-stuffed titles suggest Johnson may share an affinity with his Birkenhead neighbours Half Man Half Biscuit, but an indie satirist he’s not. He does have a propensity for Chris Difford-esque witticisms (“When you’ve got the keys to the sweet shop, you’re gonna come to a sticky end”) and his new LP The Empties is a song cycle akin to Squeeze’s From The Cradle To The Grave: albeit one performed in acoustic troubadour mode and interspersed with strategic narrative from eminent music writer Gavin Martin.
An all-too-relatable tale of star-crossed lovers from the wrong side of the tracks, The Empties is, essentially, a rootsy Romeo & Juliet set in austere post-WW2 Britain. Short and (bitter) sweet, the 12 tracks here clock in at under 30 minutes, but there’s room for several absolute gems, including the redemptive Nothing Without Love and the vivid wartime vignette Evacuees.
John Peacock, Record Collector (3 stars)