Roadhouse Album Review: “Stripped Down in Memphis” is classic blues from Big Jack Johnson

Big Jack Johnson — “Stripped Down In Memphis” — M.C. Records

If you’re a blues fan, every once in a while, some older music comes along that reminds you of just how good traditional blues can be.

This thoroughly enjoyable album, released in May (11 years after Johnson’s death), does just that.

Johnson was a big-voiced singer who played guitar and mandolin, wrote some of his own songs, and was generally an impressive force in the traditional blues world that seems to be rapidly fading.

The tracks on this album are taken from outtakes on two earlier releases — 1998’s “Lickin’ Gravy,” with harp-player Wild Child Butler, and “The Memphis Barbecue Sessions,” recorded in 2000 with Kim Wilson on harp and released in 2002. It won a W.C. Handy Award (now the Blues Music Awards) for Acoustic Album of the Year.

Mark Carpentieri president of M.C. Records and producer of the album says:

“I was so happy to discover these recordings. You get to see all of Big Jack in these recordings, his amazing playing, his humor, and can get as deep down as any bluesman. Wild Child Butler was truly underrated during his time and these recordings prove that. As for Kim Wilson, he was able to create the tone and dynamics without the use of amplification and that’s why he’s regarded as a master of the instrument.”

This is one of those albums that offers echoes of blues past, but it isn’t just dry history — it’s a testament to some traditional blues by a few players who have helped define the music. And it’s pretty much all acoustic, adding to its flavor.

The album kicks off with a fine cover of the Jimmy Reed chestnut, “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” as Wilson’s harp floats around Johnson’s guitar to introduce his deep, rich vocals. The interplay of music and vocals here is a treat, and foreshadows the excellence of the remaining eight tracks.

“Run Blues Run” introduces Butler’s subtly insistent harp on a Johnson original, again leaving the focus on his sturdy vocals. Wilson then shines on a lucid instrumental, “The Hucklebuck,” followed by “Aching All Over,” with a little intro chat between Johnson and Butler before a gentle harp and guitar opening leading into another tough vocal cut that gives Butler a few verses. Another instrumental gives Wilson a workout on the closer, “The Hully Gully Twist.” The album alternates between the sides with Wilson and Butler (check the track list below), each with its own flavor, but all musically compelling.

There are more, of course, all opening a similar vein of smoothly flowing acoustic blues. If you enjoy this traditional approach to the blues, you’ll love this gem of an album that sounds incredibly fresh and honest.

And if you’re any kind of blues fan, you owe it to yourself to sample this classic music.


Big Jack Johnson recorded live at the Curry Ranch in Venice, Fla., in summer of 1999:

Tracklist:
01 – Baby What You Want Me To Do (feat. Kim Wilson)
02 – Run Blues Run (feat. Wild Child Butler)
03 – The Hucklebuck (feat. Kim Wilson)
04 – Aching All Over (feat. Wild Child Butler)
05 – Part Time Love (feat. Kim Wilson)
06 – Alcohol (feat. Kim Wilson)
07 – See Me Coming (feat. Wild Child Butler)
08 – Going To Norway (feat. Wild Child Butler)
09 – The Hully Gully Twist (feat. Kim Wilson)

Roadhouse Album Review: “The Strongman Blues Remedy” is a musical cure for your ills

Steve Strongman — “The Strongman Blues Remedy, Volume 1” — Stony Plain Records

Mostly, the blues have moved north from their origins in the American South.

Now (and for some time), they occasionally move south from north of the border and our Canadian blues players.

One quite recent and quite excellent example is this eighth album from veteran Canadian award-winning guitarist, singer, songwriter, and now producer, Steve Strongman.

Strongman is well-known in Canada, having won, among other awards, a Juno, the Mel Brown Blues Award, the International Blues Challenge’s Best Guitarist award, and four Maple Blues Awards.

In this set of 10 songs that he has either written or co-written, Strongman shares his own sturdy vocal style with four other Canadian singers, who skillfully join to make thoroughly enjoyable bluesy, soulful and Americana music together. His guitar work is just as tasty — and he skillfully adds bass and harp work, too. Added to his backers here are longtime musical pals Jesse O’Brien on keys and Dave King on drums.

The album kicks off with Strongman on “Hard Luck,” a rocking ode to the kind of luck that’s his “best friend,” and maybe better than no luck at all. That’s followed with guest Steve Marriner handling the vocals on “Swansong,” driven hard by King on drums.

Next up is the sultry voice of Dawn Tyler Watson on the soulful “Fine Young Man,” and title is the only description you need to pick up on the obvious message, sparked with a sensuous guitar solo.

The next two tracks feature the well-polished voice of veteran soul-blues singer Harrison Kennedy. “I Don’t Miss You” is a rhythmic plea of lost love; “I Like to Ride” is bluesy shuffle driven with a tough note of auto-erotic sentiment, fueled by backup singers and some high-octane piano. Kennedy’s and Watson’s vocal turns alone are worth vocals are worth the price of admission.

Strongman works in some scorching guitar on “White Lightnin’,” complementing a fierce vocal turn. Crystal Shawanda follows with a heady blues rocker, “Tell Me I’m Wrong,” with just a hint of country in the air.

“Gettin’ Stoned” is worth a mention for its jazzy old-timey feel, both in melody and lyrics. They made a very clever video to highlight this whimsical theme, which you’ll find below. And yes, it’s all perfectly legal in Canada (the second nation after Uruguay to legalize the stuff — and I don’t know if there’s a similar Uruguayan anthem).

Strongman wraps it up with two more cuts, the bluesy “True to Me” and chugs to a strong finish with “Love Comin’ Down.”

Steve Strongman and a few of his musical friends have put together a fine album. If you haven’t heard these outstanding Canadian musicians before, you need to give them a listen. If you have, you’ll already know what a good time you’ll have.

Harrison Kennedy on “I Like to Ride”:

The “Gettin’ Stoned” video:

Track Listing:

1 – HARD LUCK
2 – SWANSONG feat. Steve Marriner
3 – FINE YOUNG MAN feat. Dawn Tyler Watson
4 – I DON’T MISS YOU feat. Harrison Kennedy
5 – I LIKE TO RIDE feat. Harrison Kennedy
6 – WHITE LIGHTNIN’
7 – TELL ME I’M WRONG feat. Crystal Shawanda
8 – GETTIN’ STONED
9 – TRUE TO ME
10- LOVE COMIN’ DOWN