Roland Johnson – Imagine This | Album Review

rolandjohnsoncdRoland Johnson – Imagine This

Blue Lotus Recordings BL-01

10 songs – 38 minutes

Sweet voiced Roland Johnson has been a local favorite on the St. Louis soul-blues scene for decades, covering classics made famous by James Brown, Sam & Dave, Solomon Burke and Bobby “Blue” Bland in a succession of bands, making all of the old tunes seem new and thrilling audiences whenever he appears.

That’s why Imagine This must seem like a dream to him. Referred to by some folks as the “Otis Redding of St. Louis,” this CD is the first ever released under Johnson’s own name.  Now 68 years old, Johnson’s a nattily dressed, finger-popping performer who’s way overdue to debut to a wider audience beyond venues like Beale On Broadway and BB’s Jazz, Blues And Soups where he regularly appears.

Roland possesses a rich, melismatic tenor voice that deserves to be heard. He’s backed here by co-producers Paul Niehaus IV on bass and keyboards and Kevin O’Connor on drums, guitar and baritone sax. They’re assisted a host of talent, including Kellie Everett on alto and tenor sax, Adam Hucke on trumpet, David Gomez on tenor sax, Alison Derrick on viola, Andy Hainz on cello, Abbie Steiling on violin, Lew Winer III on soprano sax, Phil Westmoreland on guitars, Ethan Leinwand on piano and Renee Smith, Devin Cahill, Jackie Teuber and Rachel Wilson on vocals.

The recording was mastered by Dave Gross at his Fat Rabbit Studios in Montclair, N.J. The end product is a rock-solid collection of brand new tunes that come across with the timeless feel of the soul-blues created in the late ’60s. Johnson wrote nine of the 10 songs on the disc, with Westmoreland – who’s worked with Fontella Bass and Oliver Sain — contributing the other.

The action starts with the spritely “Can’t Get Enough,” which sings praise for a new love. Johnson’s voice floats effortlessly as he delivers rapid-fire lyrics. “Promised Land” carries the theme forward. Roland’s standing before his lady with love’s arrows in his chest, yearning for her to walk with him hand-in-hand to the place in the title.

Next up, is “Mother,” a tender, bittersweet, slow blues. It’s a remembrance of all the good things a mom provided while missing her deeply now that she’s gone. “Keep On Dancin’” urges folks onto the dance floor to keep “the lows from gettin’ you down” while “The Things You Do,” another love opus, quickly changes the mood, highlighted by vocal octave jumps atop a medium-fast shuffle.

“Yours And Mine,” written by Westmoreland and featuring Smith on second vocal, claims the singer’s current romance is one that folks write songs and make movies about, and “Sweet Little Nothings” describe how Johnson hangs on his lover’s every word.

“Ain’t That Loving You” – not to be confused with songs by Jimmy Reed and Luther Ingram – follows before the title tune, “Imagine This,” a fast shuffle, portrays the lady like a genie in a bottle, making all of his dreams come true. The album concludes with the somber, mostly acoustic “Someone To Love,” about missing a sweetheart who’s no longer at the singer’s side.

Available through CDBaby and other online outlets, Imagine This is a very pleasant surprise for anyone who loves old school R&B. You’ll want to give it several listens like I did.

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