Johnny Fury – Johnny Fury II
Have you ever had to wolf down an ice cream because it is so hot out that it will melt? You manically inhale the sweet goodness to ensure the bulk of it doesn’t end up on the sidewalk or on your shirt. Down in Texas in the Summer this is probably a major issue. Austin based Johnny Fury’s sophomore album, and 2nd self-titled album, Johnny Fury II feels like this kind of experience. It is a short hopped up blast of Soul Blues that you digest in a quick single helping.
Fury sings with a clear tenor that is up front and unassuming. His songwriting, 7 of the 9 songs are original, is straightforward and the musicianship throughout is top notch. Main rhythm section drummer Russell Lee and bassist Glenn Fukunaga keep a quick snapping beat. They are replaced on just a few tracks by Kevin Abbenante and Rich Baur on drums and Omar Vallejo, Odis Hill and Joe Miller on bass but the vibe is still consistent. The horns on this record are strong and creative. Mitch Quintanilla is the arranger, keyboardist and sax-man with Matthew Price on trombone and Mike Maher on trumpet. Bukka Allen and Cole Gramling each contribute a track of keyboards and Hiroki Shimizu lends guitar to a track.
Johnny Fury is a guitar-slinger. His six string work is front and center but he doesn’t fall heed to the temptation of endless noodling. The music here is sharp and tight like a hard charging Rockabilly record, but in the form of a Texas Shuffle. “Without Me” is a clever well written shuffle that highlights Fury’s overdubbed rhythm and lead skills. It also has a great chorus that is unique. The slinky “Life on the Streets” is a great minor key soul work out. The rocking album closer “Blue Sunrise” is a total departure. Johnny sings with conviction on this track and his delayed distorted guitar is free flowing. This is distinctly not a Blues song and is incongruous with the rest of the album, but it is so well performed it’s hard to not love it.
One of the two covers here is Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)” in which Fury adds his own additional lyrics. The track, like the rest of the record, is tight and on point with great horn arrangements that punctuate the groove. However, Fury’s voice can’t compare to the master himself and adding lyrics to such an iconic song is a little presumptuous. “Mercy Mercy Me” originally had a groove, a laid back blissed-out vibe that this interpretation would have benefited from.
The cover of “Mercy Mercy Me” highlights the quick on-the-beat tempo that characterizes this record. Most of the songs are at a fast tempo, and in many cases a little too fast for the material. The tempos force all the interesting performances to be rushed. A little more air, a smidge less speed, a bit more swagger would have allowed, for example, the cover of “All Your Love” or the original “My Heart Is Yours” to bloom a little more. SRV’s debut Texas Flood is a great template for a fast paced adrenaline pumping record that still has room to breath.
Johnny Fury II is a great listen because Fury is a very talented musician and front man. His guitar playing and singing exude confidence that is reassuring and engaging for the listener, compounded by the like minded playing of all the musicians. This quick blast of Texas Soul twang leaves the listener wanting more.