Album Review – Sam Munsick’s “Johnny Faraway”

You may recognize the last name of “Munsick,” even if you don’t recognize Sam. Sam’s brother Ian Munsick has been rising rapidly on the country music depth charts with his immediately-recognizable tenor voice, and from combining Western themes with more sensible and commercially-applicable songs. Ian Munsick’s collaboration with Cody Johnson on “Long Live Cowgirls” put him on the radar of many, and now he’s working with major label Warner Music Nashville.

That’s not exactly the direction his brother Sam Munsick goes on his new album Johnny Faraway. Instead of looking to crash into the mainstream, Sam is looking to strictly uphold the Western tradition in country. Instead of coming out on a major label, Johnny Faraway is self-released. Sam digs deep into the traditions of Western songwriting for a riveting and authentic experience that reminds listeners of some of the best of Ian Tyson, Don Edwards, and Corb Lund. It’s an old approach, but with new invigorated music.

The Munsick brothers come from a singing family tradition out of Sheridan, Wyoming. Father Dave was a New Mexico State fiddle champion, and taught his boys Tris, Sam, and Ian to play and sing from the time they were able to put their fingers around a guitar neck. They performed as The Munsick Boys Band, and along with Sam and Ian, Tris Munsick and the Innocents have sown their own legacy in Western music.

Sam Munsick’s specialty is songwriting, and that comes into sharp focus on Johnny Faraway. With nine original Western songs all solely written by Sam, the album is a spirited entry into the Western music canon, studied and reverent to the songwriting modes of authentic Western music, but in wholly original works that feel revitalizing to this important subset of country.

“1922” takes reflections on a painting from the great Western painter C.M. Russell, and applies them to a lost love. Like all great Western music, geography and character is employed with positive results, including in the Western swing song “Cayuse Twister,” and in character-driven songs “Johnny Faraway” and “Smokin’ Joe.” Places like the Powder River and I-80 are also referenced, carrying the listener off to locations removed from the everyday and mundane.

One of the issues with some Western albums is they can be too reliant on traditional material, or too sparse to properly convey the appeal of this music. Since these are all original songs, and since they’re all fleshed out with a full country band, this isn’t an issue for Johnny Faraway. The song “Old Montana” darn near veers into country rock territory, like Chris Ledoux did at times in his day to great success.

With the continued rise in popularity of Western artists and authentic voices, the Munsick family is one to watch for sure. And even though Ian Munsick may be the one you’re most likely to see pass through your information feeds with his new album on the way April 7th, don’t overlook brother Sam. He’s released a really important contribution to Western music with Johnny Faraway, and it feels like one of those albums that Western fans will be enjoying for years to come.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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Purchase Sam Munsick’s Johnny Faraway

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