Patric Johnston, Texas-born poet and piano prodigy represents an emerging generation of Americana, artists whose melodies lilt out of uncommonly soulful, R&B-tinged soundscapes. Best known for his cover of Chance The Rapper’s “Same Drugs,” nearing a million Spotify streams, Johnston’s original songs are even more satisfying.
To develop the sound for his latest EP, Johnston enlisted Abe Yellen of Austin’s Wayside Studios. The result, “Castoff” is a four-song tribute to a trying year, both for Johnston and his native Houston. The word itself evokes a feeling of being overlooked, which is how many Houstonians felt after the hurricane and how Johnston feels, as an artist in a city where commerce, not culture, is king.
At many of Houston’s popular dives, music is considered a sensory layer, rather than a means unto itself. The “listening room” craze of cities like Austin and Nashville hasn’t caught on, though Johnston insists that will change: “the audience is here; we just need to find the right venues to bring them together.”
When occasional disillusionment takes hold, Johnston funnels it into his writing. As with contemporaries Noah Gundersen and Marty O’Reilly, social institutions take center stage. “Gold,” written as a call-and-response to Gundersen’s “New Religion,” argues for meaningful relationships in place of religious authority: “Who’s to say what a soul’s worth? / Can you measure it in gold?” This refrain sums up Johnston’s wry-humored, slightly speculative outlook on life. “Gold” is also the track that showcases Johnston’s heart-rending, high vocal register best.
Johnston himself was raised in the Baptist Church, which accounts for heavy gospel influences in songs like “Valley.” An ode to a low place, “Valley” is the perfect bookend to “Castoff,” as it stares down the heartache of life, urging the listener to wade through it. Horns furnished by Jerry Serrano underscore the song’s message of ultimate triumph.
When asked about his plans for the future, 26-year-old Johnston maintains the same winsome, free wheeling outlook he projects in his songs. “Who’s to say?” could very well serve as a mantra for Johnston. His only goal, he says, is to “progress.”