The greatest musicians are honest on the stage. They sit or stand, and they play their hearts out, leaving nothing to chance. For they are brittle individuals when they step away from the stage, on it they are kings and queens. Listening to The Fog Lights heart and soul, Justin Johnson and Jim Peters, the immediate connection is forged due to that instant chemistry and honesty. Their debut album, Manhassett, is an album to own and not just rent. It’s a CD you will need on the highest of good days and the lowest of darkest ones as well.
The musicians built a folky pavement for their 12 songs to ride on and it’s an easy going familiar yet potent sound. When folk is done right, it instantly takes you back to a memory in your lifetime. It’s not just about driving down the highway with the window down. Manhassett takes you right back to your high school days, when you didn’t know who you were or what you wanted to be yet. The mystical emptiness that everybody gets sucked up into at some point in their life.
The regretful bluesy “Fear” is a street with littered doubts shaken all around. “Fear is in your heart. That’s the place to start. Second time around. The walls are coming down. If you feel nothing, then it meant nothing at all.”
“I had a dream”, which could be the mantra for all independent fighting musicians, drifts through that moment of grasping an idea and feeling relief. “I felt the breeze, seemed to put me at ease, I can sail the seven seas.”
In what is easily my favorite song on the album(which means it got the most replays and even had my three year old son singing along), “Wait” can be the mountain of contempt we all face on a daily basis. “Running down a stream, change your name for me, those that believe float away. Look out below. The tears of fallen snow is more than we can do or say.” Peters makes “wait on me now” sound like a rally cry for everybody who feels the need to run but are constantly stuck in neutral guarded by cement. Simple acoustic support is all that is needed on this golden track that will sound as crisp and pure in 50 years as it did on a calm Tuesday.
The scared Say Anything ballad “The Real Me” takes you down the time where you first wanted to open up to the one you love but didn’t know how to trust or give a piece of yourself away. “I don’t see the light in you. Other say its shining through. You know I want to treat you right. It’s just most nights I am so tired. Want to finally be, want you to see…the Real Me.”
Johnson and Peters’ biggest weapons here are their soulful voices and acoustic guitars that they swing like samurai sounds across your eardrums, slicing away the harsh reality of your condition while they explain how they came to be. A banjo, harmonica and backup players may surface here and there, but it’s more or less these two fellas strumming along. That’s all great music is. Someone telling what they are and where they came from through via a tune.
My belief is that in order to give an album a fair shake, a person must listen to it at least three times. It’s like riding in a car. You must take it out for a variety of drives. Test the engine, brakes and see how it makes you feel. When I slipped this disc into my player, I didn’t want to take it out and that’s because Johnson and Peters are storytellers first and foremost. They aren’t fancy, don’t wish to stand toe to toe with U2 or The Rolling Stones. They just want to play music, give you an experience and make you remember what honest good music sounds like. Along the way, you may relax and forget about your problems for a short while.
If you need to see The Fog Lights live in order to truly buy what they are selling, you are in luck because they are playing all around St. Louis in the next few weeks. This Friday, August 7th, they are playing in The Open Highway Music Festival at the Off Broadway Music Venue. On September 5th, they are playing inside the Music Record Shop along with Emily Wallace. On September 8th, they play GadellNet Saturday Sessions at Tower Grove’s Farmer’s Market as part of Twangfest.
You can purchase their CD at any of their shows but first, get a taste by listening to their lead single. When it comes to these guys, it’s simplistic yet potent music that instantly makes you feel. That kind of music doesn’t need a genre. It just takes over. As the band said after their album release show at Blueberry Hill on July 25th via their Facebook page, “Thanks for being a part of this journey. Thanks for believing in music.” The Fog Lights make you believe in music again.