Self-Release – 2016
11 tracks; 46 minutes
Canadian Bill Johnson was born in 1964 and started early on guitar. His precocious skills led him on to stages from age 14 and he worked for some years in Calgary where he backed many touring bluesmen. Family health issues forced him into semi-retirement for a decade and more recently his wife’s health also necessitated some time off the road (a situation referenced in the title track here). This latest album follows 2010’s Still Blue and is entirely original. Bill handles all guitars and vocals with regular bandmates Rick Erikson on bass, Darcy Phillips on keys and either Ross Hall or Joby Baker (who also co-produced the album with Bill) on drums; David Vest guests on piano on three tracks.
Bill displays a good variety of styles here and sings in a clear, strong voice with a touch of grit. Opener “Baggage Blues” is a driving blues with David Vest’s piano to the fore; “Nine Dollar Bill” is a fast-paced shuffle with plenty of rocking 50’s style guitar from Bill (“Don’t call it jazz, it’s my West Coast jumping blues”); “Night Train” has an almost C&W feel with deep notes rumbling behind the train. The title track contains references to Bill’s difficult family health issues: “My wife she was sick while my Mother was dying. It’s cold outside, I ain’t talking about the weather, get hip, you know it’s cold outside”. With an ominous sounding guitar refrain and sombre backing, this is a dark song indeed. However, things brighten up with the catchy, slide and piano-driven “True Love” before the slow blues of “My Natural Ability” on which Bill’s BB-esque guitar and Darcy’s fine piano work fit the lyrics brilliantly: “I’ve got an inclination for the blues and a natural ability to lose”.
Bill returns to catchy material on “Makes A Fella Nervous” with another fine piano contribution from David as Bill bemoans the interest that the police seem to be taking in his activities! “Free From My Trouble” is a driving tune with a touch of country rock and plenty of slide from Bill who then gets angry with his woman on “Angry Guitar”, a song that recalls some of Jimmy Thackery’s humorous tunes. “Driftin’ And Driftin’” is a familiar title but this is not Charles Brown’s song; what it has in common is a slow rhythm but Bill’s song has more of a country blues feel with the stately piano and weeping slide behind Bill’s weary vocals. The album closes in reflective mood with “Angeleen”, a song about a “siren who sure has some chops” though Bill is now “grateful that I somehow got away and live to love another day”. The ballad has plenty of gentle acoustic playing plus Bill’s world-weary voice to make a good end to the disc.
Solid playing, good vocals, varied and interesting songs make this a disc that stands out from the crowd and makes this reviewer recommend that readers seek it out.