Livin' With The Blues is the third release on Top Cat Records by Johnny Nicholas. I missed the middle one, but the first album, Rockin’ My Blues To Sleep, was an excellent debut for this accomplished musician.
Seven out of the 12 tracks included on this CD are Johnny Nicholas originals, and there’s some very good music here.
The covers are of tracks by Roosevelt Sykes, Howlin' Wolf, Brownie McGhee, Little Wille John and Tommy McClain – and they are all true to their roots, without being direct copies of the originals.
The album opens up with a Nicholas original, “Froggy Bottom,” and as soon as it starts, you just know that this is going to be a great blues CD.
Track two is a jazzy blues instrumental, “Hill Top,” again written by Johnny Nicholas. It’s followed by an excellent rendition of Roosevelt Sykes’ “You Can’t Be Lucky All the Time”; Riley Osbourn’s piano on this one is magical!
A well-executed version of Howlin' Wolf’s !I’ll Be Around” follows, and then another two Johnny Nicholas written tracks: first, “Dirty people” – a superb track! This is well-written, and very well-performed, with tenor sax from Greg Piccolo that could bring tears to your eyes. Following is “Teardrops On My Windowpane,” a slow moody song with some more Greg Piccolo sax and Floyd Domino on the piano.
Track seven is a good cover of Brownie McGhee’s “Livin’ With The Blues” – accordion on this one, played by Joel Guzman, adds a different, almost Cajun, flavour.
The highlight of the CD for me is track eight – Little Willie John’s “Need Your Love So Bad,” with the vocals performed as a duet between Johnny Nicholas and Marcia Ball. This is absolutely marvellous – it works so well. Joel Guzman is there again with his accordion, and there is some lovely Hammond B3 playing by Red Young. I had so much trouble getting past this track that I almost neglected the last four tracks on the album!
These are three Nicholas written tracks, and a cover of Tommy McClain’s “Texas Drifter.” Track nine, “Honeydrippin’ Baby,” has a great horn backing to it.
The next two tracks, “Texas Drifter” and “I’m From Texas,” borrow some flavour from country music and didn’t really do much for me.
The album comes to a close with a Nicholas written ballad, “Down In The Alley.” This was written, apparently, for Johnny’s first album (but not included) and it’s got a flavour of Ray Charles about it. Johnny Nicholas is quoted as saying that he wrote the tracks shortly after Doug Sahm died, so I guess it’s a kind of a tribute too.
A fitting end to a, mostly, very good album.
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