Juke Joint Jonny
Pure and Simple
Blues Leaf Records
Juke Joint Jonny's new CD, Pure and Simple
(Blues Leaf Records), is one of those discs that
just kind of sneaks up on you. The first time I
listened to it I was ready to write it off as just
another retro sounding blues album. By the second
time around I realized that there might be something
special going on here, and by the third time it went
through the CD player I knew this one was going to
be a favorite.
Jonny plays both 6 and 12 string guitars, and sings
with a raspy voice that brings the right amount of
grit to his material without coming across as too
grating by the end of the album. Plus there's enough
variety to the material to keep the listener
guessing on every cut.
Opening the album is the mid tempo blues "Come on
Up," one of 10 original compositions out of the
dozen cuts here. Jonny is basically inviting
everyone up to his place for a feast --- "chicken in
the oven ... collard greens ... some candied yams
and okra ... pan-fried cabbage, hush puppies and
johnny cakes ..." Okay, he's got my attention and
my appetite. This cut's got a real ol' timey feel
with the accompaniment of Mike Rinta's tuba and Ken
"Snakebite" Jacobs' clarinet.
Now that we're all well fed, Jonny takes us on down
to New Orleans with "Joline," led by guest pianist
Mitch Woods' fine Professor Longhair-style tickling
of the ivories.
We then move on the Mississippi Delta with the
haunting "Going to Mississippi," featuring Jonny's
excellent slide guitar and regular band member Mike
Stevens on the more politically correct named "jus
harp." But here, Jonny admits that he's never been
to Mississippi, has never picked cotton, etc. but
says that he's learned all about the Delta through
Jonny shifts gears on the next number, "Moma Lion,"
in which he turns into a blues shouter on this up
tempo tune which again features nice piano work,
this time from Steve Lucky. The next couple of cuts,
the Jimmy Rogers cover "That's Allright" and Jonny's
own "Dry Well Blues," both are straighter blues that
showcase the artist's guitar skills.
We're then taken uptown for a slow, late night
blues, "Unlucky in Love," with Lucky switching over
to B3 organ. Jonny comes in midway through the song
with a very tasty acoustic guitar solo. This is one
of my favorites on what is already shaping up to be
a wonderful CD!
I wasn't sure what to expect when I saw the title of
the next song, "Edgewood (Funk-e-nuff-fo-u)." The
song starts out sounding more like an acoustic
guitar showpiece before the horn section comes in to
turn it into a funky Memphis-style soul
"Alameda Tickle" continues this road trip through
the south, with Jonny featured here playing his
guitar in a finger pickin' Piedmont style. Back to
back instrumentals, but about as diverse as can be.
Yeah, it works!
The up tempo "Juke Joint Boogie" follows, with nice
slide playing from Jonny and good rhythmic drumming
from Stevens. This cut segues nicely into the CD's
second cover, a rendition of Muddy Waters' "Going
Down to Main Street," which features great harmonica
work from Sandy Mack and guitar accompaniment from
another guest, Albert Castiglia.
Wrapping up Pure and Simple is the pleasant
"Changes," with Jonny accompanying himself on
guitar. It's obvious a lot of thought went into the
order of songs on this CD; this cut brings it to a
conclusion as aptly the first number pulled us into
Jonny's blues party.
Pure and Simple exceeded my expectations, and
I'm sure that most blues fans will agree --- it's a
fine, fine album!
--- Bill Mitchell