CD: 10 Songs, 38:14 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs
The name of the latest release from Canada’s Johnny Max Band, Roadhouse Soul, is a misnomer. Soul typically features horns, harmony, and maybe a hot torch singer in the bargain. Every tune on this CD is quintessential electric blues rock – even the title track. Nevertheless, don’t fret. It’s more than good; it borders on the great. It’ll make people boogie whether they feel the urge or not. It’ll also make them laugh, cry, and think, because this band’s forte is songwriting. Their original material stands out amidst offerings full of covers, and that’s music to my ears. On their promotional information sheet, their vocals are described as “straightforward,” and that’s a most apropos adjective. Johnny Max and his crew don’t try any fancy tricks with vibrato or auto-tune. The way they impress is by not striving to impress: not showing off. They’re on the level.
As if this ensemble weren’t busy enough performing and touring, Max also finds time to host a radio show: “Sunday Morning Soul” on The HAZE FM, Canada’s only commercial web radio station, on Sunday mornings at 11AM and Wednesdays at 10PM. He also co-programs the CNE Bandshell BluesFest with Rico Ferrara, among other ventures. Publicist Michael Limnios once interviewed Johnny for the website BLUES.GR (Blues Greek). When asked about his love for this genre, Max explained, “Blues is a music that speaks to the common man. It tells stories that everyone one of us have known [sic] or have felt [sic] at one time. The music makes you feel so good. Makes you want to dance or get up and have a good time. A lot of people that I meet seem to think that Blues is sad and, yet, it is the complete opposite to me.”
Along with Johnny Max on lead vocals are Kevin Vienneau on guitars, mandolin and vocals; Jim Casson on drums and percussion; Rob Gusevs on piano and keyboards; Russ Boswell on bass, and Quisha Wint on background vocals.
The following three songs have humor, heart and heat, making their way to the top of the pack.
Track 01: “Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy” – We’re not supposed to feel good when others suffer misfortune. In the case of this song’s subject, however, karma can be a real witch: “He shoots off his mouth like he’s Jesse James. He’s calling people into question, calling other people names. It’s all fun and games till you lose an eye. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!” Kevin Vienneau’s guitar then laughs at him. If you’re fed up with certain folks, dance your blues away.
Track 02: “Blind Leading the Blind” – A wicked bass line and growling guitar highlight this lament about government. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. It’s the same with politicians. You can’t make them think. You can clean them all up; they’ve still got the same old stink.” Professional expertise is supposed to count for a lot in today’s world, but when opinions matter more than facts, well – start singing the title, loudly and proudly.
Track 05: “I’m Broke” – Time for a peppy piano ballad! Who among us hasn’t grumbled this song’s name at least once in our lives? Reminiscent of Randy Newman in his heyday, it’s perfect for snapping your fingers, tapping your feet, or even whistling along to. Kevin Vienneau also performs a keen mandolin solo.
Johnny Max knows contemporary blues rock like the back of his hand, and also Roadhouse Soul!