Jeremiah Johnson – Heavens To Betsy
12 songs – 42 minutes
St Louis-based Jeremiah Johnson has been making waves for several years now, with his previous release, Straitjacket, being warmly reviewed in Blues Blast and reaching #6 on the Billboard Blues Album chart. Johnson has always embraced his Southern Rock influences and his latest release, Heavens To Betsy, sees him exploring those roots in detail.
The album opens with the country rock of “White Lightning” – replete with harmony guitar leads – and a solo section that immediately puts Johnson’s heavily wah-wah’ed guitar to the fore. While Johnson is clearly a magnificent guitar player, and his six string antics are prominent on every song, his riff-based songs are balanced both by Frank Bauer’s excellent supporting saxophone and Johnson’s “song-first” approach. These are songs that would work just as well being strummed on an acoustic guitar around a camp fire as they do in a raucous electric band environment.
Johnson’s band are top drawer. In addition to Bauer, he has Tony Anthonis on bass, Benet Schaeffer on drums, Rick Steff on keyboards and ex-Devon Allman band member, Tony Antonelli, on percussion and backing vocals. This is a band that enjoys playing with dynamics, constantly shifting the intensity of a song in a manner that recalls The Black Crowes, even on a slower track, such as the gentle “Ecstasy”.
Johnson wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 tracks on HeavensToBetsy, with the sole cover being a funky interpretation of “Born Under A Bad Sign.” And while the majority of the tracks mine a solid vein of Southern Rock, tracks such as “American Steel” and “Soul Crush” even have hints of Deep Purple in their guitar riffs, key changes and interplay between musicians.
Lyrically, while Johnson explores traditional themes such as sexual desire (“Tornado” contains the gloriously bonkers metaphor that “She’s a hot coffee on a bumpy road”), he also addresses the economic hardships faced by farmers in “White Lightning”, his unbounded love for his new son in “Leo Stone”, and the pain of seeing his grandmother suffer from dementia in “Long Way Home”.
But addressing serious issues in his lyrics does not mean that Heavens To Betsy is depressing or introspective. Overall, this is the sort of album you will want to throw on to accompany a large BBQ or other opportunity to celebrate the good things in life. It’s a good time party album, as emphasised by tracks like “Castles In The Air”, which recalls GeorgeThorogood with its driving rhythm and honking sax in the background.
With warm production from Pete Matthews at High/Low Recording in Memphis, TN, there is a lot to like about Heavens To Betsy. This is blues-based Southern Rock as served up by the likes of the Allman Brothers, Hank Williams Jr. or Blackfoot. If that’s your bag, you’ll definitely want to check out Jeremiah Johnson.