Blues Bytes

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June 2020

Johnny Burgin
Delmark Records

Johnny Burgin

In 2016, guitarist Johnny Burgin moved from Chicago to California, drawn by the host of talented Bay Area blues artists. Even though he left the Windy City, its influences remain firmly entrenched as evidenced by his recent release, Live (Delmark Records). The album was recorded at Redwood Café in Cotati, California with an impressive list of West Coast talent backing him – Aki Kumar (harmonica), Kid Andersen (guitar, piano), and Burgin’s regular road band – Chris Matheos (bass), Steve Dougherty (drums), with special guests Charlie Musselwhite (harp), Rae Gordon (vocals), and Nancy Wright (sax).

Live is not your ordinary “live” recording. There are several original tunes are being heard for the first time on disc and Burgin and his bandmates do not play together regularly. The fact that I told you this will probably be the only way that you would have known this because the group sounds like a well-oiled machine.

The opener, “You Got To Make A Change,” is a lively, swinging shuffle that will get toes tapping, and “Can’t Make It Blues” is a desperate slow burner with serious guitar work from both Burgin and Andersen. The funky mid-tempo “She Gave Me The Slip” has a little touch of the swamp mixed in, and on “You’re My Trinket,” Burgin’s crisp guitar work recalls Otis Rush.

Earl Hooker’s instrumental, “The Leading Brand,” is the album’s first cover and provides ample space for Burgin, Andersen, and Kumar to stretch out. The second cover, Robert Lockwood’s “I Got To Find Me A Woman,” follows and introduces Gordon and Wright to the proceedings, with Gordon dueting with Burgin and Wright providing a memorable solo. The Oregon-based Gordon figures prominently in the next three songs, singing lead on the smoldering blues “Late Night Date Night,” “You Took The Bait” (featuring a scorching solo from Wright), and backing Burgin on “Daddy’s Got The Personal Touch.”

On the instrumental shuffle, “Louisiana Walk,” Burgin and Andersen both stand out with Wright providing stellar backing. Musslewhite sits in on harp for the speedy version of Jimmy Rogers’ “Blues Falling.” His harpwork is superb on “California Blues” (Burgin’s account of his move to the West Coast) and the slow blues, “When The Bluesman Comes To Town.” On the instrumental closer, “Jody’s Jazz,” Burgin references Jody Williams’ riff from “Lucky Lou,” with Wright contributing another smoking sax solo.

Live is a fantastic set from Johnny Burgin that should be as pleasing to blues fans as it was to the appreciative audience in attendance. It’s a fine mix of Windy City and West Coast blues that’s a lot of fun to hear.

--- Graham Clarke


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