Photo: Stella Sangster
Over the years Johnny Sangster has played guitar and keyboards for Mark Lanegan, Mark Pickerel & His Praying Hands, the Tripwires, punk-poppers the Briefs, Rusty Willoughby and Scott Sutherland's group Llama, and most recently he has toured with Neko Case in 2019 in support of her album Hell-On. From his formative years as bandleader of the Copenhagen based Sharing Patrol in the 1980s to the present, Sangster's listeners have always trusted his impeccable musicianship and evocative songwriting, and he has not let us down. Take the perfect song from his debut solo album, co-written with Leslie Braly, Letting Go of Love... "my heart is heavy as a Fabergé Egg... to the horrible truth, to the beautiful truth, I've seen you and I surrender... all polish and shine, memory sweet love, even as I'm lettin' go of love." This song hasn't merely been on this writer's heavy rotation, it's been on auto-repeat.
And if all this wasn't convincing enough, Sangster is also an in-demand producer, having worked with the likes of Mudhoney, Kurt Bloch, Loose Wing, Lincoln Barr, JR Rhodes, Maggie Bjorklund, Willoughby and Rachel Flotard's Cobirds Unite, as well as recording his sometime songwriting partner Leslie Braly and her band Pineola at his own Seattle-based Crackle & Pop! Studios.
Sangster's superb debut solo album The Moon on the Ceiling & Other Night Hags offered here is a collection of mostly spare, solo recordings that draw you in with his tasteful and incisive guitar playing and singing, all neatly wrapped with undeniable hooks and lyrical smarts that recall Elvis Costello at his most personal. According to Sangster, the album, featuring the drumming of Calexico’s John Convertino, "was recorded in the dark months of a dark time... reflecting on loss and a changing world," all of which sounds very relevant to this listener's ears as we roll into a new decade of uncertainty and angst.
All the more need for the beauty of Johnny Sangster's songs.