In the mid-70s, Stevie Wonder graced us with an epic album titled Songs in the Key of Life. But as fraught as those times may have seemed then, socio-politically they’re sweet, charming nostalgia compared to these fraught, mucked up divisive times we’re all trying to navigate through.
Half the time, we read or listen to local, national and world news in disbelief about what we’ve become. Thus when well-traveled veteran musicians and songwriters Bryan Russo and Ryan Abbott teamed up to create the rollickin’ Americana duo Journos, the only possible title for their full length collection of incisive, super witty, infectious and deeply poetic romps was In the Key of WTF!
Though both are musical and vocal contributors throughout, there’s a key reason the duo’s promo materials bill them as “award winning journalist and lyricist Bryan Russo and workhorse punk-rocker Ryan Abbott.” Feel free to Google their fascinating individual histories and stream their work in previous groups as you listen from the hilarious, ultimately raucous celebration of musical underachievement (highlighted by its catchy, who gives a damn “Sha-Na-Na” chorus) through the hypnotic percussive rumbler questioning why we never grow out of our “Learned Behavior” patterns.
Then realize it’s not relevant to what you’re listening to. As Journos, they’ve created a fascinating, socially conscious world apart from all previous history, driven by Russo’s insanely insightful, bitingly provocative lyrics (which read as fascinating as they sing) and perhaps the industry’s only dusty Americana vibe informed by defiant, edgy punk sensibilities. They offer a dizzying array of personal and universal songs that tap into everything from the search for something more in life (“Something Worth Feeling Again”) to the financial trickery (“Dirty Money”) and encroaching authoritarianism (“Oh Tyranny!”) of our leaders and even a small fishing town person’s limited understanding of climate change (“Tangier”).
Russo’s namedropping alone (sometimes direct, sometimes veiled) should set your heart alight – Trump, Leo, Corey Haim, Lester Bangs, Axl Rose, Kurt Cobain, et al. Ironically, for an album that makes several pointed digs at greedy preachers and hypocritical religion, Jornos saves some of their most compelling musical and lyrical energy (in a whimsical blues rock vein) for one last remarkable tune (technically a bonus cut0 that all at once celebrates “Mr. Tindley,” an early 20th Century minister known as the “Prince of Preachers” who wrote the hymn “We Shall Overcome” is based on while crying out “When will we overcome?” In the Key of WTF! offers a lot to chew on thematically and lots of details to absorb and contemplate – but at the same time, it’s actually a pretty upbeat and joyful listen!