Daniel Johnston - Continued Story / Hi, How Are You?

Anthony Page 27/08/2009

Rating: 5/5

For a long time Daniel Johnston was the ultimate outsider artist, revered by almost every musician who had heard of him, but generally unheard of by the wider music-buying public. His star has been on the rise since the release of the touching Devil and Daniel Johnston documentary, leading to last year's sell out Daniel Johnston and Friends tour, where artists like Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Jad Fair (Half Japanese), Scout Niblett, and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), acted as his backing band. Though his name and story are getting more well known, a lot of his earlier works, often recorded on cassette, are a lot more elusive. Feraltone Records aim to change that, though, by reissuing some of his earlier albums, including this record containing both the Continued Story and legendary lost Hi How Are You? albums.

If you're only aware of Daniel Johnston through the documentary and the story of his life-long battle with mental illness, it's easy to fear he is being hyped up, or used as a cool icon for underground artists to use as a reference point. Thankfully there is much, much more to Daniel Johnston than this - but yes, his long and complicated history with mental illness dominates most things said about him, and after listening to these two albums you'll understand the fuss and how illness has affected the talents of a true songwriting genius.

This two album CD is perfect for those looking to dip their toes into the music of Daniel Johnston; both albums showcase the two personalities that live within him. Continued Story is the most accessible album of his I have heard, this was the first album he recorded in a studio, and is the perfect opener to the CD. Showcasing Daniel at his clearest and most lucid, songs like Casper, Running Water Revisited and Girls are the sort of anti-folk tunes Jeff Lewis and others would kill for, and all in a album recorded in 1985. Along with his famous cartoons and hand drawn artwork Daniel, if not the inventor of Anti Folk, is certainly proved to be the Godfather of all that's come since.

Hi How Are You? is harder work, but gives a much clearer insight into the mind of Daniel Johnston. Originally home recorded on cassette and using any music making device at hand, it's a dark, fractured album, not for the faint-hearted. The darkness of songs like Despair Came Knocking, I'm a Baby (in my Universe), and I'll Never Marry hint at the demons inside, but the hope and beauty of songs like Hey Joe and Keep Punching Joe reveal the therapy he found through making music and that even at his darkest Daniel Johnston can write songs that would make his heroes: The Beatles, green with envy.

I can't recommend this re-issue enough, a perfect entry point for the new fan, and vital for long-time fans. The chance to hear the early work that drove him and to hear Daniel's voice clear and untainted by years of harsh drugs is a true pleasure, which everyone deserves to hear. Add to that the album also contains a fold out booklet, all the lyrics and Daniels own drawings and artwork, and you have a package not to be missed and a strong contender for re-issue of the year.