Being a good person and appreciating your roots are indeed crucial to Royce Johns, no doubt. The Iowa country and folk singer-songwriter takes his love for his 515 area code and his mission to dive deeper into storytelling to create his debut full-length album, Thank Ya Kindly.
Recorded at Sun Drop Sound in famed Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Johns takes the next step from his previous EP, Truckstop Souvenirs, and what he has previously described as “neo-country” to inform listeners what life has taught him thus far.
The opener to the new album, “Wish I Was,” ponders the stresses of life, and longs for simplicity in the shape of other life forms. Who do you wish you were? What do you wish you could be? Johns is candid in his answer — sometimes he wishes he was just a croakin’ toad, a tall old oak tree, a skippin’ stone, and much more. He philosophizes simplicity in this beautiful track, finding creative and country-charmed ways to say he wants to be “carefree, without a worry, and without a need.”
The title track to the album, “Thank Ya Kindly,” is a heartfelt tune beyond Johns’ Midwest values, and effectively hearkens to The Golden Rule- treat others the way you want to be treated. The delicate fingerpicking and swelling violin arrangement in the song aids his message, “In the places that you go / Around people you don’t know / Just keep your head on straight / And be nice.” The song is a reminder to both the audience and to himself on how far a smile and kind gesture can go.
As the album progresses, Royce allows his self-deprecating humor to shine through. The playful and countrified “Distracted Again” is chock-full of delightful steel guitar, resonator guitar, and traditional twang. Having found an upbeat way to sing about his attention span in this ever-distracting world we live in, Royce pokes fun at habits of twiddling thumbs and staring out the window.
Distance and death are the two themes that accompany “800 Miles,” as Johns takes listeners on a road trip to a graveyard. Ghosts dance in the road as 800 miles becomes 300, and headlights give way to tombstones. This track is equipped with an intriguing, soft spookiness that continues on into the final song on the album, though the energy levels drastically change.
“Pine Box Boogie” fires out of a boogie woogie cannon, and seems like a direct ode to The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s a carefree tune sung from the perspective of a corpse, moving away from the ghosts in “800 Miles,” and develops into skeletons that shake it underground. Closing the album with the explosive track is a full-circle moment, as its fun vintage charm is just what the doctor ordered.
Johns is one of the handful of modern artists delivering authentic and original old school country, folk, and boogie woogie songs, as this Iowa songsmith can hang with the best of them. It will be no surprise to see his star rise over time.