Favorite Icon, Full size
Album Review: Rustic Piano: A Day At Heart Land Hill
Donovan Johnson
Cover image of the album Rustic Piano: A Day At Heart Land Hill by Donovan Johnson
Rustic Piano: A Day At Heart Land Hill
Donovan Johnson
2017 / Donovan Johnson
52 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Before diving into Donovan Johnson’s sixth album, Rustic Piano: A Day At Heart Land Hill, fans from Enlightened Piano Radio will need to forget for a little while that Johnson heads up a mostly new age piano internet radio broadcast. This album is being categorized as “Country” and “Americana” and Johnson told me that it is “an honest attempt at a reflection of all that I am musically and personally. Farm life, rural upbringing and midwestern country community are all included in these songs.” There are some quiet and reflective pieces on the album, but the overall mood is one of a rollicking good time and a look back at a much simpler way of life. Country swing, honky-tonk, and vintage rock all take a turn or two, leaving traces of Floyd Cramer, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and other greats from years ago along the way. Johnson explains the subtitle of the album: “’Heart Land Hill’ is a fictional place that I've created for use in concert settings. It's a place that exists far away from the worries and stresses of the world, where every person is welcome, and where fun and togetherness can be experienced along with peace and contentment.” Sounds good to me! Instrumentation on the album includes Johnson on piano, organ and bass; Michael DeLuca on drums, George Laughery and Kevin Martinez on guitar, Josie Quick on fiddle, Ed Archibald on sax and Eric Bikales on flute.

Rustic Piano begins with “Wild Blue Yonder,” an intriguing cinematic opener that really made me wonder what was coming next. The title track removes any doubt about what this album is about. The joyously swinging piano is infused with an infectious electric bass guitar rhythm. If this one doesn’t get your toes tapping, you’d better check your pulse - you might be dead! “Early To Rise” slows down the tempo a bit to an easy-going slow dance with a little jazz flute added. “The Final Frontier” is the first of a few keyboard solos that are slower and more reflective, adding a nice balance to the more up-tempo ensemble pieces. “Boxcar Bust” begins with a nostalgic train whistle and then a country rock/boogie piano that would make ol’ Jerry Lee proud! Bass and percussion help to keep this one dancing until the closing train whistle and fade-out. “Oklahoma 1935” recalls the dust bowl and the devastation that took place in Oklahoma that year, forcing many to relocate to CA. A duet for piano and fiddle, Josie Quick adds a heartfelt poignance to the piece. “The Porch Rocker” has a slow but rhythmic rocking feeling and again features Josie Quick - a great slow dance piece! “Salebarn Rumble” refers to the many auctions The Johnson Family attended when Donovan was growing up. It begins with an auctioneer and then breaks into a light-hearted yet driving rhythm with the piano in the lead! “Backroads of Nebraska” has a very 1950’s feeling with a fast beat, sax, piano, and happy danceability. “Ashokan Farewell” is the only cover tune on the album and is a slow, soulful keyboard and fiddle duet. The closing track is a solo piano arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner” that is slow and a bit melancholy with some interesting and different chord voicings - an ending that is as intriguing as the beginning was.

If you enjoy instrumental music with a country/nostalgic/Americana feeling, be sure to check out Rustic Piano! It is available from www.DonovanJohnson.net, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby and is certain to brighten up your day. Recommended!
July 24, 2017
This review has been tagged as:
Kathy's Picks
More reviews of Donovan Johnson albums