Zoho Roots ZM 201510
12 songs – 42 minutes
Newtown, Conn., blues-rocker Jay Willie doesn’t hide the fact that the biggest influence in his life has been the late Johnny Winter, and hints of the Texas guitar slinger’s stylings. But despite the CD’s title, this isn’t a tribute album, it is far more than that. Although some of Winter’s influence peaks through occasionally, Johnny’s Juke Joint is a well-conceived collection of covers and originals delivered with gusto from a fresh point of view.
It features stellar guest appearances from new-age harmonica master Jason Ricci, who’s appeared on all three of the band’s albums, and singer Malorie Leogrande, who tours internationally and possesses a distinctively different voice with a five-octave range, and Jay’s brother Tod, who holds down vocals on one number. Drummer/vocalists Bobby T Torello, guitarist/vocalist Bob Callahan, sax player Ted Yakush and bassist Steve Clarke help to round out the group and produce a set that’s certain to keep your toes tapping or your feet on the dance floor.
Leogrande and Ricci blast out of the starting gate to kick off the disc with a version of Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs’ “Wooly Bully,” a Tex-Mex classic and one of the biggest songs of the mid-‘60s. It’s driven by a powerful rhythm pattern as Jason provides the patterns originally laid down on farfisa organ and then launches into one of the rapid-fire solos that fans have come to love. Malorie’s delivery is warm and upbeat. Next up, the pair are featured again in a loping, well-controlled version of Jimmy Reed’s “You Got Me Dizzy.” Ricci opts for lower- and middle-resister notes instead of copying Reed’s high-resister original to add a modern feel to the production.
“One More Mile” follows with Jay on vocals for an arrangement that hints of Sugar Blue’s interpretation of a song often credited to James Cotton, but written by Muddy Waters. Ricci provides harp accents as Willie gets to stretch out on the six-string for the first time in the set. The treatment is rock-solid for a song that deserves far more exposure than it’s received. Next up, Malorie is totally sultry for the original slow blues “Upside Of The Ground.” The message is simple: Any day on the right side of the grass is a good one despite the perils you might face along the way.
Another ‘60s classic, Bobby Parker’s beach music standard “Barefootin’,” precedes the only other original in the set, “Hold On To Watcha Got,” featuring slick guitar work and vocals from Jay. The band dips into Curtis Mayfield’s songbook for “People Get Ready” with Tod singing lead and pleasing choral accents.
Jay gets to demonstrate his slide guitar skills again for “I Love Everybody,” the song Winter commonly used to open performances with Malorie on the mic, before Bobby T takes command to deliver the Buddy Guy/Junior Wells-penned “I Got A Stomach Ache.” A version of Dee Clark’s “Nobody But You” follows before the album concludes with a rocking version of Roy Milton’s “Succotach” and trip to the Bottom via a stripped down, countrified version of Robert Johnson’s “Me And The Devil,” fueled by Ricci’s harp.
Available through CDBaby, Johnny’s Juke Joint delivers on all counts. The two originals are good ones, and the covers all get a fresh coat of paint. Head and shoulders, the Jay Willie Blues Band’s best album yet.
Reviewer’s note: Johnny Charles Marino and I both preceded Jason Ricci as harmonica player for the Nucklebusters.