John Dennis has a melodic voice that warms a conversation. His words are carefully but quickly chosen, and are firmly but kindly spoken. The Freeburg native has lived in Nashville, Tennessee for several years studying and perfecting his music, and a bare hint of Southern accent sometimes escapes his lips.
“You can tell when someone’s an artist, when someone’s playing at an artist,” said Bryan Clark, of Rainfeather Records. Dennis is releasing his second of four albums with Rainfeather this week.
Dennis will be at the Espenschied Chapel at 7 p.m. July 28 and 5 p.m. July 29 in Mascoutah. Advance tickets are $15 for the show at 317 County Road, Mascoutah.
Dennis’ voice is nothing like that of his musical hero Bob Dylan, but his lyrically driven songs in the style of “Americana” are reminiscent of Dylan’s and other’s work.
“I’m largely influenced by folk people and folk music,” he said, adding Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and even early Bruce Springsteen as musical influences. “I think that type of stuff is being lumped in with Americana. … To me it’s folk songs.”
Americana is an “umbrella-type” term for music that isn’t overtly commercial country, Clark said.
“Folk is a little more narrowed, specifically with the societal message, and John’s very passionate about the social message he puts out in his record. He’s more interested in that call to action and examination of issues.”
Dennis’ about-to-be-released album, called “Second Wind,” is the second of four he will do with record label Rainfeather records, and each will have an elemental theme, he said.
“The ‘Second Wind’ in my life, which is getting sober, and from grief,” he said. “I certainly spent a lot of time in that decline.”
Dennis celebrated his second year of sobriety in June.
“As an artist, it’s easy to get caught up in tortured archetype hero, struggling with abuse. (Some place their) artistic validity on tragedy, and that’s not accurate. At least not for me. It just destroys you and it doesn’t have to be the case.”
“I definitely fell to the idea that I needed a tragedy to be valid. ... I’m not a believer in that anymore.”
Dennis’ alcoholism stemmed in part from the sudden death of his longtime girlfriend, Adrienne Glauber, who was killed at age 19 in a car crash in Columbia in October 2010. It was at the beginning of his college career at Belmont University in Tennessee.
“It was a good, beautiful relationship; you hinge all your young dreams and scope them around that relationship,” he said of his three years with Adrienne. “I really just imploded” after her death, he said, with the stress of being away from home, his studies and her death eventually leading to alcoholism.
“When I chose to get sober was the point when I had to go back to my roots musically and decide if that’s what I still wanted to do,” he said.
He chose to immerse himself in music.
“And so I became so cognizant of the reality of the business rather than the ethereal and mysterious passion of it,” he said.
He has a four-album contract with Rainfeather Records and recently cut the first song for the third album at its Nashville studios.
His second album, “Second Wind” becomes available Friday, and his first, “Eternity’s Tree” is available on iTunes and Amazon. He wanted to come home for that, and expects his parents, Linda and Ted Dennis, to be among those at the Espenschied Chapel.
“He raised me on poetry and literature. From an early age I was reading verse and became enamored in other ways of talking.”
Speaking of Dennis’ songwriting, Clark said, just listen to “Walls Fall Down” and “They Tell Me It’s Time.” Both are on YouTube now.
“It’s basically him saying there will come a day when it won’t hurt as bad,” Clark said.
John Dennis in concert
- Where: Espenshied Chapel, 317 County Road, Mascoutah
- When: 7 p.m. July 28 and 5 p.m. July 29
- How much: Advance tickets are $15
- For more information: www.espenschiedchapel.org/