After listening to Stag Cotillion Volumes One & Two, it’s easy to see why Roger Johnson has won four PLUS songwriting awards from ASCAP. With Stag Cotillion, he has crafted an album that Beat Surrender calls “a wonderful surprise – it's a brave effort torelease something of this breadth. Does it work? In a word, yes! Johnson is possessed of a wonderfully rich and layered voice. Add to the mix his excellent song writing, a choice set of musicians and control over production – the end result is one great recording, worthy of attention."
While each song certainly stands on its own merits, Stag Cotillion is essentially a concept album with a story arc that follows one man’s journey from the innocence of youth to the wisdom of maturity – from the inexplicable allure of an older femme fatale, to a star-crossed infatuation with a much younger woman. Whether under the withering glance of a disdainful ex-lover or as his own comedic foil, Johnson’s protagonist is tested by a series of misadventures with the opposite sex. Bruised but not beaten and as much bemused as bedraggled, he views his love life as an ongoing stag cotillion – “dancing alone with many.”
Coming of age under the musical influence of the Beatles, Byrds, Flying Burrito Bros and Eagles, Roger’s songwriting reflects a highly sophisticated take on life and affairs of the heart. By subtly altering his voice from one song to another, Johnson is able to underscore the unique story contained within each of his compositions. His singing and writing have invited favorable comparisons to Rodney Crowell, Raul Malo, Gene Clark, Gram Parsons, Dwight Yoakam and Chris Isaak.
All influences aside, however, there's no question that Johnson’s music is fresh and distinctively his own. With decades of professional music experience behind him, he is anything but an overnight success. As a live performer, he has shared the stage with Americana artists such as singer-songwriter Kim Richey and rockabilly legend Rosie Flores, as well as with Adam Durwitz of Counting Crows and David Lowry of Cracker. Although Stag Cotillion represents his first release of original music, Roger has logged hundreds of hours in studios from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, absorbing the nuances of what makes a recording great.
“Songwriting and recording are equal parts art and craftsmanship,” says Johnson. “In the end, however, it’s really about communication. It’s about creating a sonic environment where the lyrics and the music combine to take listeners to a place that’s engaging and special – both real and imagined.” One thing is for certain, industry insiders agree that the 25 songs on Stag Cotillion are something special.
Radio promoter and Americana Music Association co-founder, Bill Wence, calls the album “first rate” with production, songs and vocals that are “right on the mark.” Veteran music publicist Mark Pucci calls Stag Cotillion “a strong CD, chock-full of excellent songs and performances. I especially like the songwriting throughout the album.” Johnson's poignant vocals have moved John Gjaltema of AltCountry, the Netherlands to hail him as “a great singer with a beautiful, rich voice – similar to the western soul of Raul Malo." Secret Road music supervisor Lynn Grossman agrees, saying that “Roger has quite a bit of talent – his voice is special and the songs – really good stuff!” Record producer and Juilliard School faculty member, Greg Knowles, summarizes the double-disc set as a “must have.”
Johnson has had his share of career highlights, including an invitation from the late music producer, Nik Venet, to appear at the latter’s legendary “Campfire Conspiracy Songwriters Showcase,” as well as multiple appearances at the annual Cosmic American Music festival (a.k.a. “Gram Fest”) in Joshua Tree, California. Without question, however, the release of Stag Cotillion has been Roger’s most gratifying experience to date.“It’s extremely rewarding to have my music out in the public arena. I’ve assembled a great band of players from Nashville and the Twin Cities and those guys love to tease me about our music being a ‘highbrow hybrid.’ But you know it’s true, my objective was to pull together threads of rock, country, R&B and folk and to offer something different: material that doesn’t sell the listeners short by pandering to some sort of musical lowest common denominator.” Perhaps that’s why Johnson is a big fan of newer acts like The Civil Wars, Mumford & Sons, Tift Merritt and the Avett Brothers. “Those folks are outstanding and they give me great hope for our collective musical future – a future that I hope to be a part of for many years to come.”