Johnette Downing

Reading Rocks!

(Wiggle Worm Records)

Johnette Downing, Reading Rocks, Album Cover

Don’t get me wrong, my faith in humanity felt torn and frayed well before two women I know got almost everything they own ripped off by a heartless thief who hot-wired their U-Haul in the dead of night. “I want my panties back!” bellowed my suddenly bereft friend over Facebook.Buy on AmazonBuy on iTunes

The truck hasn’t been found. The thief will probably get away unpunished. And that doesn’t count the dozens of folks I know who couldn’t spare any crash space for another homeless friend. Not even her so-called best friend would lift a finger or shift a coffee table.

Now is the winter of discontent—bigger than mine, I submit, bigger than yours, bigger than ours. Tough old world? Always has been? Well, sure, shucks. But not like this. Factor in Katrina, factor in Bush’s laissez-rot toward the vets coming back from his war. But it’s trickled down (the one thing that has). It’s reached the street level, the interpersonal level. We’re circling our wagons. We’re hardening our hearts.

How delightful and how warm, then, to find New Orleans’ own Johnette Downing praising and prescribing for the next generation. She wants kids to read, and so they should. She spreads out the magic of reading in such tunes as “Readers Are Leaders,” and even if I’m not completely convinced, I want to be. The playing, never less than tasty, pushes the gentle didacticism and could stand on its own should Downing ever decide to make music for grown-ups. I’m happiest with Gina Forsyth’s fiddle, but Downing, self-producing, multi-tracks herself into a mini-orchestra with string things, voices and “percussions.”

Some of the songs are actually stories. Said stories feature lazy, greedy snakes, crawfish and possums, outshone by valiant and selfless oysters, crabs and deer. Hey, I know this record is supposed to sell the young ones on the idea of the future. But can I stand under its awning awhile? Life’s better here.