David Johnston is known for his down-and-dirty, electric blues-rock, but this new album - his first in nearly a decade - is a surprise. The longtime veteran of the local scene put together an acoustic trio with himself on guitar, backed by Peter Wolf bandmember Marty Ballou on standup bass, and John Sands (who tours with Aimee Mann) on a simple drum kit. The results are shocking at first - his usual electric guitarist, Chris Rival, produced the record - then grow on you dramatically. Johnston’s raw emotions and affectingly quirky phrasings have never been better showcased. He has an intimate way of addressing love’s rights and wrongs, from the the blunt ballad “Smell the Coffee’’ to the seductive sway of “Casting Pearls.’’ The sonics have a wide range, from gutbucket blues to the recitative, Leonard Cohen-style “Dark Was the Night,’’ the Paul Simon-ish Afro-pop of “Lada,’’ and the gospel stride of the traditional, “There Will Be a Happy Meeting in Glory.’’ It’s the only non-original, but sweeps the album to an upbeat end. (Out now)
ESSENTIAL “Casting Pearls’’Johnston performs each Tuesday at Bull McCabe’s.