10 songs – 42 minutes
Led by drummer, harmonica player and vocalist Reggie Britton, Black Magic Johnson is a tight band from Springfield, Ill., who deliver their brand of blues with an R&B feel.
Britton was literally born into the blues, having played in his father’s band as a teenager and he made a name for himself as a youth in drum-and-bugle-corps competitions. He served in the house band on the famous Robert E. Lee riverboat for three years in early adulthood before moving to Central Illinois, where he quickly become the drummer of preference for several bands, including Sun Records recording artist Eddie Snow & The Snow Flakes.
The seeds for Black Magic Johnson were planted in the late ’90s, when Britton’s band of the time, regionally popular Oysters Rockefeller, broke up and he started working as a duo with a former band mate. The unit added and changed personnel through the years before the release of their first CD, Call Me, in 2012, but the music they’ve delivered throughout is relaxed, original and built on a solid groove.
Sharing credit with Britton on Walk With You Baby are Alex Rogers and Dan Grover on guitars, Lawrence Baulden on bass and keyboards and Willie Christman on bass with a strong lineup of guests, including an appearance by soul-blues guitarist James Armstrong as well as contributions from Springfield-based vocalist/guitarist Tom Irwin, rapper Daryl “Dub I.Z.” Virgina, guitarist Dave Lumsden, vocalist Brooke Thomas, harmonica player Mark Russillo, trumpet player Frank Parker and organist John Crisp.
Available through all of the major online retailers and billed as “Americana funky back porch blues,” this all-original CD kicks off with Armstrong laying down a cool guitar groove as Britton delivers “The Call,” a forewarning to a lady of the troubled telephone call she’ll be receiving from him from somewhere on the road. The details are vague, but the feel is real, driven home by Parker’s horn. The pace picks up and the band gets funky for “Magic Man,” a lyrical promise to make a woman’s day better by putting her in a trance.
A syncopated drum run kicks off “Can’t Get Over You,” a song of loss in which Dub I.Z. provides a vocal response and brief rap to support the theme. The strong lyrics include the lines: “I feel jaded/My heart’s been confiscated/Sittin’ here by myself and segregated.” Powerful feelings expressed in a unique way. The mood brightens dramatically moments later, however, with the loping “Happy Holiday Baby,” a Christmas tune, before an extended observation about mankind in “Hooked On Something,” a straight-ahead blues that states quite clearly that everyone has some sort of addiction.
Next up, “Asleep In The Doorway” – written by Mike Booth and the only song not written by Britton in this set – swings with jazz overtones as it speaks about living on the street and drinking cheap red wine before the slow blues, “Who Dat,” which questions the identity of the person who’s told the listener in the song that her man’s been cheating. Another interesting take on a familiar subject.
The title cut, “Walk With You Baby,” features Britton in a duet with Thomas delivered from two angles: he wants to get next to her, and she wants to show you all that she can do. Apparently, it’s a marriage made in heaven because “Thank You Baby,” which follows, is a gospel-tinged, uptempo pleaser. “Good Bye Good Morning,” an acoustic song of parting, concludes the set.
While Black Magic Johnson doesn’t plow much new ground on this album, the band delivers a great set of music here. The pacing is perfect, and the songs all shine. Your ears will have a good time with this one, and your feet will be keeping time throughout.