11 songs – 55 minutes
The blues community has been blessed in the past decade or so with the emergence of major talents from northern frontiers, ranging from the Canadian wilderness to Estonia. They’re provided their own version of Northern Lights as they’ve entertained us with their varying interpretations of the music we love.
Hailing from Six Nations Ontario, Joel Johnson deserves an important place in that stratosphere with Blues Joose Volume II, the follow-up to his dazzling all-original, 2010 release, Blues Joose Vol. 1, which earned honors for album, song and artist of the year in the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. His group also represented the Grand River Blues Society in the 2013 International Blues Challenge, appearing twice onstage at B.B. King’s. This new work, which powerfully blends blues, swing, boogie and rock and was produced through a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the first disc was no fluke.
Johnson wrote all the material on Vol. 1 and contributes nine tunes for the follow-up, leaving room for two covers that offer new views on classics from Jimi Hendrix and Robert Johnson. He handles lead and rythym guitars as well as vocals, backed by Mike Fitzgerald (drums), Steve Pelletier (bass), Wayne Dagenais (keyboards), Dwayne Laforme (guitar), Troy Dowdling (trumpet) and Ritch Thoman (saxophone).
“Out Of My Mind” grabs your attention from the first note as Johnson’s guitar shuffles out of the gate double-time, quickly joined by his voice. One chorus gives way to a swinging piano solo, before Joel starts relating how a woman’s cold shoulder gives him the chills and how he works long and hard only to see the gal go out and have her thrills. The fretwork is in-your-face straight-ahead slide and single-note picking certain to appeal to a wide audience. “Raise Your Wind” follows with rock overtones, set off by a steady-driving line from the bottom, as the singer bids adieu to a lover who’s finally gone too far. His words like his guitar licks, sting from beginning to end.
The band delivers a Memphis feel with “I’ll Be Just Fine,” in which Johnson describes his blues hurting him down to his spine, but reassures the listener that he’ll be okay. He proved it with another slashing guitar solo, aided by the horns. A modern take on Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” is up next before the ultra-modern blues, “Real Mispleaser,” in which the woman comes with a price: “You’ll have to spend to keep her/That’s all!” The woman may be trouble, but the song’s a keeper.
The rocker “Make It Happen” kicks off with a simple, hard-edged line from the strings as Johnson relates living on adrenalin to make his dreams come true before a sensitive cover of Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” faithfully delivered. “Insanity” points the disc in another direction. An uptempo drum line carries Johnson forward as he launches into a clean, rapid-fire three-minute instrumental. The band swings again for “Rhumba Song,” a syncopated rouser dealing with the joy the singer receives watching his lady dance to the aforementioned rhythm. “Turn It Up” follows in the mode of “Boogie Woogie Flu” before the set ends with Johnson’s brief tribute to a blues musician who left us at the very top of his game. It’s a grinding, West Side Chicago-style instrument number entitled “Luther Allison.”
This is strong album that delivers on all fronts. If you like power blues, you’ll love this one. I sure did.