Ethan Azarian & Jeff Johnston
When You Were Young
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Nov. 25, 2016
Vermonter Azarian and Dallasite Johnston's richly textured strain of songwriting first emerged when the two performed together in the Orange Mothers. Since then, the Austin duo have whittled ever closer to the essence of emotions that words usually fail to capture. Whether transmuting a sense of well-being or of queasy foreboding, the primary characteristic of these songs remains overwhelming humanness. The opening title track takes well-trod Nashville sentiment and imbues it with new life via a heart-rending arrangement and lyrics that celebrate "the freedom of knowing nothing." In harrowing contrast, "Teach Your Children Well" defies its titular CSN pedigree with a pedal steel and theremin-soaked dirge. "The Ballad of Sally Anne" borrows its title from a traditional bluegrass song while transposing the tragedy from a lynching to a young woman dying in a car crash. Azarian's intimate scope brings in details like the surviving friends trying to figure out who's going to call her parents. No summer blockbusters here, just life rendered at sidewalk scale.