365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 5

Johnny Azari – Songs From A Motel Room


There are far too many artists out there today throwing inordinate amounts of marketing money around trying to put forth a facade of authenticity the likes of which very few actual artists have actual claim to. Put another way, you’re not a musician just because you play one on TV.

And then there is Johnny Azari.

In the hands of virtually any other aspiring troubadour, Songs From A Motel Room would sound like yet another hapless ivory tower attempt to play Bukowksi by way of Cohen for a hapless pack of damp-knickered co-eds still prone to getting titillated any time love, sex, and death walk into a bar together.

And then there is Johnny Azari.

Is there a more straightforward way to say this, than to say that this is the real shit? Songs From A Motel Room is not aspirational marketing-speak for the next high-fashion Townes Van Zandt to come down the No Depression pipe, nor is it a season on the street for someone’s thesis.

My favorite part of the whole aurual spelunk into Azariville is the fact that he provides geo-notes on where the songs were recorded—turning these songs into genuine songs of place in a way we rarely experience anymore.

I’ll confess, at first listen to Don’t Mind The Dyin (Track 1), I got hung up on the sound. I mean, it SOUNDS like it was recorded in a motel room. It’s a bit tinny, and abrasive, and distorted, and it’s not “not-pretty” in a chick-with-a-limp kind of cool way, it’s literally just not pretty. But honestly, could it be any other way? That’s where the risk comes in.

One of the things I admired so much about Nelson Algren’s writing, is that he wasn’t afraid to point out that poor people are often assholes, because being poor sucks. That’s what I feel here, in this music. Being away from home, alone in motel rooms, with the echo of no applause ringing in empty ears—that can suck. And it can make you an asshole. Or, at least, it can make your songs assholes.

Picture the scene. Johnny Azari, shirtless, sweaty, looking both half-crazed and half-exhausted, as he wavers in a kind of anti-spiritual post-reverie. He’s wedged into the corner of a spare motel room. There’s a wall-mounted air conditioning unit inches from the headstock of his guitar, and a single bed two feet from his right thigh. Two microphones on boom stands loom in—one a broken crow, the other a spindly vulture. In front of him, a laptop on a makeshift table. He dazedly fingers a staggering arpeggio, then tilts his head back, opens his mouth, and sings:

Standing before, the lord’s darkest door …

This is the Dead Sea Scroll moment. The moment you uncover something that changes history as you’ve understood it. Azari’s revelation is neither musical nor spiritual. It is simply human. In some ways, this is the simplest album ever made, as it is nothing more or less than exactly what it says it is.

It is: Songs From A Motel Room. By Johnny Azari.

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