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Musical Metamorphosis: North Meets South showcases new five-piece sound at Summer Breeze

Sunday, July 12, 2015

North Meets South has successfully made the leap from beloved husband and wife Americana music two-piece to a five-piece band. Sunday evening at Lions Park was their coming-out party. For everyone at Summer Breeze, it was a great concert of original songs and choice covers — most notably Patsy Cline’s arrangement of “Crazy,” which singer Joie Johnson crushed so thoroughly as to almost make it her own — but to North Meets South it was a metamorphosis.

After playing for years in a duo format, Joie Sherman Johnson and husband John Johnson (rhythm guitar) have expanded the group whose name doubles as a fitting name stylistically and autobiographically. With Joie hailing from Fargo, N.D., and John representing Tulsa, the pair met at OU, experienced life a world apart when John made his way to China, and began playing in Washington, D.C., before returning to Norman where it all began.

“We bonded over music … eventually we decided, why not try to do this together,” Joie said.

Now, they’re putting their well-laid plans in motion. The band may have gone to the band format sooner, but the band isn’t one to make a hasty decision. It’s been an undercurrent in John and Joie’s relationship for years and now the pieces have finally come together. The band has added the widespread use of harmony vocals, dynamic percussion and a talented-beyond his years lead guitarist in Justin Dupuis.

“We love it. This is the sound that’s been in our head for five years,” John said. “This is definitely the culmination. We write, by default, for a band. It is a new thing, but it’s been thought out a lot … Getting people that have the personality and the skill set, the desire and have vision, as well, that’s tricky. That’s taken time.”

For the new members, it’s been an adjustment, too. For Dupuis, a UCO jazz product, it’s meant learning country licks — certainly doable but unfamiliar for the 20-something phenom. For drummer and former OU Pride alum Dillon Hayden, it’s been all about dynamic range. In a two-set show, he uses drum sticks, symphony mallets, hot-rods, brushes, shakers and tambourines, or, as he puts it, “everything in the bag.”

Bassist Scott Strandberg has gone from his familiar role as a lead singer in other outfits to full-time harmony vocalist. The result is a rich and polished sound that’s both unique and highly likable.

“Joie’s voice is so rich and dynamic. She has an incredible range, not just of notes, but also of volume. Sometimes I think she doesn’t even need a microphone,” Hayden said.

Joie’s twangy and powerful voice leads the show but North Meets South in its present form is more than that. The band boasts catchy songs, is highly professional and notably good looking — If you don’t think this matters, you’ve never seen a pop star in the last 20 years, or perhaps ever.

With a Summer Breeze hit performance in hand, an album set to be released in the fall, a handful of new originals written as a newly expanded band and touring aspirations creeping toward the front burner, everything is headed in the right direction.

Even after all these years, it feels like they’re just beginning to hint at what their ceiling could be. Like Joie’s vocal range, high would be a fair bet. Very high.

Mack Burke

MackBurke@gmail.com

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Norman Transcript

Fri., Sept 28, 2012
By Courtney Goforth

In the land of the Sooners, it seems I would be a cardinal sin to not take a recommendation from a Switzer: So when Barry Switzer’s wife, Becky, suggested North Meets South to play at the Midway Deli, it was worth looking into.
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Mike Goodman, the music coordinator for the Midway Deli8 Concert Series, took the habitual deli customer and lady Switzer’s suggestion seriously when it came to the talented Oklahoma alumni duo and booked them for their second appearance at the deli.

“[Becky said,] ‘you guys ought to take a look at North Meets South, “’ Goodman said. “We did, and they are an exciting couple. They are young and full of energy.”

Last January, Goodman partnered with the Midway Deli owner Bob Thompson to bring music to his tight-quartered, yet inviting deli on the corner of Eufaula Street and Chautauqua Avenue. “It offers a neat venue for our singer-songwriters,” Goodman said. ‘That was really the motive. I wanted to create a venue, here in Norman, for our many gifted singers and songwriters and the rest followed. We now have a year of experience under our belt and we are beginning to develop a base of fans.”

What use to be a full-fledged grocery store is now a smoke-free, theater setting in a historic building where two hour sets entertain and welcome guests of all ages.“ You are right on top of the artist,” Goodman said. “It is very personal in nature because you mix with the performer. You don’t have a place to duck back behind the crowd and it makes it very neat.”

John and Joie of North Meets South find this one of the most appealing aspects of the midway Deli, which has convinced John to dub it his favorite place to play. “It’s really nice to play in a listening room where people just kind of sit down and are interested in what you have to say,” John said. “They are not talking to their friends or eating dinner.”

Without much distraction, the singer-songwriters are able to introduce their songs better and build a personal connection with their listeners. However, this can come with some intimidation since the Johnson’s believe Oklahomans are some of the Midwest’s top music guru’s.

“We think people in Oklahoma appreciate really good music,” Joie said. “I think that they are savvier than other places we’ve been, it terms of what they accept as good music and what they won’t. Historically there is a great kind of roots music based in the area and I think people have a foundation to build upon. They generally won’t accept bad music.”

The Americana acoustic rock pair are hell-bent on impressing the crowd with their “darker” material written in their Washington D.C days and their high-energy songs they jokingly call “free marital counseling.” I think we have a greater range of emotional material now because we have balance in our life here in Oklahoma,” Joie said. “I think people can tell we are really happy to be back.”


 

The Weekender

By Stefane Green

It was sheer happenstance to have met and chatted with John Johnson one Tuesday evening of late July this past blistering summer. He strolled in and sat adjacent to me on the Othello’s patio, chatting instantly with a mutual friend.

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The more he spoke, I knew I recognized his face (hidden partially behind mirrored aviators), but could not place where. So when our friend excused himself, I lit the match of conversation, introducing myself and remarking on the female performer filling the air with sultry music. He smiled casually after returning the gesture and leaned back in his chair, tugging the knees of his jeans a bit, “I’ve always had a soft spot for blues,” he sighed. I laughed in relief and agreement, knowing would get along just fine.

I guess you could say this was the beginning of my first interview with John who, unbeknownst to me at the time, is the guitar whiz half of the rising local duo, North Meets South. John seamlessly injected himself into our small group’s competitive banter with lots of gesture, humor, and jolty retort, making his company feel like an age old friendship. Upon John’s suggestion, our group bounced over to The Deli for some tunes, stopping into Campus Music along the way. John was killing time, waiting for his better half Joie, who would join our group later at Othello’s. Her long red hair, million-watt smile, and bohemian-chic style suit her perfectly. She makes up the seductive and powerful vocal side of NMS with a personality that completely compliments John’s. The sight of them together screams “All American Couple.”

Joie proceeded to entertain us with comical voice overs she had been practicing prior to her appearance. Shortly after her arrival, our group bid adieu leaving the too cute couple to live out their evening together. It wasn’t until a month or so later that I was bestowed the wonderful music of the two together. This was again, by happenstance — walking past The Mantel in Bricktown. A fellow musical friend and I found a table to commandeer on the patio where we waited while John piddled with tuning his Gibson. Joie leaned into John, whispering a few words to which he smiled in agreement. Then he hiked up his guitar a bit and strummed a G chord. Joie swayed around her microphone and they soared into “Me and Bobby McGee.”

The summer is still hot but Joie’s voice is soothing like grandma’s sweet tea. Janis would be proud to have heard this rendition. I’m not too keen on the idea of comparing one artist to another but if Brandi Carlile, Susan Tedeschi and Grace Potter were to produce a love child made for music, Joie would be it, and in my opinion, that makes for a proud comparison. John doesn’t produce sound vocally while performing, but it isn’t necessary. Everything that he could ever hope to sing comes from his guitar. He provides perfect harmony for Joie and could change his rhythm to suit hers in a hear-beat if need be. They have uncompromising chemistry and swagger. They can set the blues tone and jive with their original tune “Molly Brown Blues” then bring a grown man to his knees with beautiful accompaniment on Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah.” With their busy schedule in the music scene, they no longer remain a hidden treasure, but a local Must See. Having met John and Joie and seen first hand their humble and down to earth sensibilities, they make for great company on and off the stage. With that being said, go to reverbnation.com/northmeetssouth to find an upcoming North Meets South performance date to attend. Don’t miss out and don’t forget to say “hello.”


 

Oklahoma Gazette

Sept 26, 2012
By Louis Fowler

Six months ago, John Johnson and Joie Sherman-Johnson, both University of Oklahoma alum who make up the duo North Meets South, were working corporate jobs in Washington, D.C., playing “casually, not even weekly, not even monthly for about two years,” per Johnson, before relocating to Norman.

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Fresh from a short tour of the Midwest, the two readied for another round of upcoming local shows, including back-to-back gigs at Oklahoma City Limits and Norman’s Midway Deli. So why would they move from the East Coast to Oklahoma to start a musical career?

“Ultimately, we just wanted to be in a place that made us happy,” said Sherman-Johnson, a former musical theater major. “We missed Oklahoma the minute we left it. We thought we would do our best work when we were in a good mental state, and that’s in Oklahoma.”

Added husband and guitarist Johnson with a grin, “High standard of living, low cost of living.”

Before returning to Norman, the two worked to perfect their musical relationship, while trying to maintain their personal one as well.

“We have similar musical tastes, so that was easy,” he said. “But as far as the way we approached our instruments, and the way those things went together, we had to figure that out.”

Sherman-Johnson agreed, “Just figuring out as a couple not to take things personally when you’re working, like, ‘Oh the tempo’s a little fast!’ ‘You don’t know me!’” He described the music as “Americana, which is kind of a vague term.” She said they’re “eclectic.” Calling on inspiration from acts as diverse as Patsy Cline and Red Hot Chili Peppers, both ultimately settled on the all-encompassing term of “alt-country” to define their sound.

“We have a really current and youthful energy, so if we do stuff that has more of an old-school vibe, I think that there’s a currentness about that will excite people who are more into the now than the past,” Sherman- Johnson said.

North Meets South is prepping its first album, but meanwhile, promises a “good, solid night of music.”

“It’s been a wild journey for us … so I think people will feel very appreciated. I think we got a good energy to give when we play,” she said. “It means a lot to have those people in those seats. We’re happy to be back here.”