John Casey – Vive le France
Roughly a decade ago John Casey left Minnesota and crossed the Atlantic to France. The plan was to earn his foreign language requirement and complete his degree in English. Then he figured out that he could play gigs in the town of Nice for 300 francs a night (roughly $60) and all the Guinness he could drink. “I had a ball,” Casey laughs. “I was like, what else would I want to do with my life except get loaded and get laid?”
Ten years later, a more settled Casey has returned to Minneapolis, where he lives with his girlfriend and two-year-old daughter (for whom his second album, Hannah Rose Suite, was named). He now has three albums under his belt, and has an accelerated French class on his hands (two years in ten weeks) to finally put that English degree to rest.
Casey’s voice falls somewhere between Bob Dylan and Steve Forbert (perhaps Dylan trying to imitate Forbert). His music is folk at its heart — including an occasional talking blues or dose of politics, plus a bunch of troubadour tales — but expands far beyond that. Generally accompanied by his own acoustic guitar, jazz/funk bassist Jim Anton (Greazy Meal) and multi-instrumentalist Eric Christopher (Bellwether), who switches easily between fiddle, mandolin and guitar, Casey is able to find textures and arrangements that are far more sophisticated than your basic singer-songwriter fare. The music starts with a good dose of acoustic blues and moves from lyrical to thrashing (despite the lack of drums).
Still, songwriting remains Casey’s biggest strength. His latest Urban Ear Records release, Super America, is as direct as it is poetic, sometimes driven by beautiful wordplay (as on “Lace”), other times by political commentary (such as his blunt look at corporate America on “Businessman”). While he writes about his life, he’s one of those rare songwriters who can stir up the memories of your own. “I’m not vain enough to think that my thoughts are any different than anybody else’s,” he reflects. “That’s why I write about my thoughts, because I know that if I’ve thought these things out, other people have too.”
Casey is clear that he’s as unlikely to pursue stardom as he is to run from it. He’s got bigger things to take care of, like Hannah Rose. As for the music, it’s less like a job and more like a piece of his soul. “The music will always be with me,” he smiles. “Whether it’s up in the attic with my daughter or [playing] a show at First Avenue.”