Better Man – Merl Johnson

Better Man - Merl JohnsonThanks to Tom Mindte and his Rockville, Maryland company Patuxent Music, which boasts releases from artists like Travers Chandler & Avery County, Jessie Baker, and Ethan Hughes, the bluegrass world has been receiving some pretty cool music as of late. Now, Patuxent Music is back at it again with a new release from Merl Johnson.

A multi-instrumentalist from Woodbridge, VA who has had the opportunity to perform with bluegrass greats like Charlie Waller, Junior Sisk, Bill Harrell, and Dave Evans just to mention a few, Johnson’s new project Better Man greatly features his vocal and playing abilities. His 14-track, 47-minute project, named after its title track (which also happens to have been a 1989 hit single for Clint Black), sits firmly within the realm of traditional music.

On Better Man, Johnson is joined by a cast of excellent musicians including Stefan Custodi (bass), Danny Knicely (guitar), Dick Smith (banjo), Jay Starling (dobro, vocals), Brennen Ernst (clawhammer banjo), Tad Marks (fiddle), Tom Mindte (vocals), and Jenny Leigh Obert (fiddle).  He draws from several different sources to produce a list of mostly traditional sounding material for Better Man. From Carter Stanley’s driving Sweetest Love, the traditional piece All the Good Times Have Past and Gone, and That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, which was made famous by Gene Autry, the record is full of all-too-often forgotten material. For instance, one of the album’s standout tracks is a tastefully played instrumental version of When Johnny Comes Marching Home. Johnson also sprinkles in some nice original instrumentals. The bouncy, traditional sounding tune Amandalyn seems strikingly familiar while his song You’ll Find Monroe Written There features a multitude of Monroe licks arranged in a fantastic fashion.

From Johnson’s distinct vocal to his stellar Monroe-type mandolin playing and expert fiddling, this album really shows listeners what this D.C. area musician has to offer. While having a high appeal to fans of traditional bluegrass, the album’s instrumental tunes are sure to have the ability to charm virtually all listeners.

Next time he’s coming through an area near you, make sure to take the time to listen to him pick and sing a while. You’ll surely be glad that you did. For more information on regarding Merl Johnson and his record Better Man, please contact Patuxent Music at:

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About the Author

John Curtis Goad

John Goad is a graduate of the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music program, with a Masters degree in both History and Appalachian Studies from ETSU.