Canyon City is a he, not a they. It’s the moniker for Nashville-based singer songwriter Paul Johnson. It’s an atmospheric, beautiful indie folk style that you’ll really enjoy. It’s hard not to compare him with artists like Sleeping at Last. He deserves to be in that company, too.
The opener “Waves” has a soft joy to it. There’s a lyrical connection to the theme of the album overall, allowing water to be the conduit. It’s also romantic, connecting to a key relationship. The electric guitar work, a staple of Canyon City, can be instantly calming to open the album.
The second song is “Needles and Pins,” a wonderfully relatable song about trying to make it in life. The theme is about being uncomfortable in society, something that many of us creatives can relate to. The man is heartsick and it works so, so well. The melody and string lines are quintessential folk, layered with some more modern instrumentation and production. Sometimes that can be frustrating, but Canyon City pulls it off well. The layers, here, actually conjure more emotion (as well they should) but the song would still hold up solo acoustic.
“Firework” begins with this excellent, punctuated mention of “Carolina” that reminds me of Noah Gundersen’s music. Yes, that’s a huge compliment. In fact, a lot about the acoustic guitar line on this track reminds me of Gundersen and David Ramirez. Great company, that. The way Canyon City phrases on this song is just perfect. It’s a model for songwriters.
“Alone With You” is a perfectly romantic song. The music itself is more complex than it seems at first blush, with a complicated melody layered over a changing fingerpicking line. It’s one thing to play a basic plucking pattern over and over, but this one really changes in each part of the song. The lyrical message is a bit more simple, but it’s a track that really fills the space beautifully.
“Between the Stars” was the song that won Canyon City this spot. It’s a wonderfully articulate, swooning song. The balance between the acoustic guitar and the distant, traditional piano works so well. It’s a soothing, comforting song for sure. The following “Time” is another that shows off some intriguing guitar work, using a chromatic acoustic line to set the tone of the song. The melody line is almost John Denver-esque in its delivery, yet it works really well for a modern sound. The imagery of nature and existential questions work nicely, finding resolution in being with someone you love. Exactly.
Perhaps my favorite track on this album (that I clearly love) is “Blue (Midnight Version).” Something about the stripped down sound makes this one cut through me. The lyrics are delivered with depth and sincerity. He delivers the lines like they are desperately important for us to hear. I’m inclined to think they are. I think it’s about making the most of our opportunities (but I’d love to ask him what it’s about… maybe I will soon!)
The final track “Olivia” has a similar electric-guitar dominated style. It’s a really great way to end the album, driving home Canyon City’s signature style. Again you’ll hear both his quality vocals and a stunning poetic lyric style.
In my opinion, Canyon City deserves far more credit than he seems to be getting. He should be a household name in the Nashville music scene. I’m looking forward to hearing these songs live. They will hold up. Whether it’s a romantic song or one that makes you think about the world around you, Canyon City has a way of creating a smooth atmosphere for you to think and dream.