Johnny Burgin – Live
Delmark Records – 2019
14 tracks; 69 minutes
Live albums tend to follow a tried and tested formula: start with a familiar number, put in some tracks to promote the latest album and conclude with the fan favourites everyone wants to hear. Johnny Burgin had other ideas though when he contemplated his first live album in twenty years – he went for an album of new songs and there are just four covers here, two of which are part of the guests’ slots. It’s a risky approach but Johnny was confident that his regular rhythm section and Northern Californian friends would cope and the evidence is here for us to hear! Johnny is on guitar and vocals with Chris Matheos on bass and Steve Dougherty on drums, plus Kid Andersen on guitar and piano,; special guests Charlie Musselwhite (harp on three cuts), Aki Kumar (harp on two and percussion on two), Nancy Wright (sax on five) and Rae Gordon (vocals on four) up the ante on a total of nine tracks.
The opening four songs are all new originals with Aki lending his harp to the swinging opener “You Got To Make A Change” with lyrics about the girl who can’t stop drinking, both Johnny and Kid on guitar and a solid start to the show. “Can’t Make It Blues” is a classic slow blues with despairing lyrics and “She Gave Me The Slip” is a gently funky tune with a touch of Little Feat to it courtesy of the infectious rhythm work and some ferocious soloing. Johnny opts for the core trio on “You’re My Trinket” and his guitar rings out over the rhythm section’s steady shuffle beat, another good cut.
Aki returns to the bandstand for a great run through Earl Hooker’s “The Leading Brand”, the first cover of the show and, naturally, it also provides a vehicle for both guitarists. Popular West Coast singer Rae Gordon then joins in on four songs: first up is Robert Junior Lockwood’s “I Got To Find Me A Woman”, as Johnny and Rae share the vocals, Rae’s deeper voice a good contrast with Johnny’s lighter tone and Nancy adding a striking sax solo; “Late Night Date Night” is a co-write between Johnny and Rae with Kid shifting to piano, Johnny pulling out a great solo and Rae on great form on the vocals as she describes how working musicians only see their loved ones after they finish playing – a good song and a fine performance. Another new song by Johnny finds Rae claiming that “You Took The Bait” with Nancy’s rasping sax to the fore and Rae concludes her mini-set with “Daddy’s Got The Personal Touch” which Johnny wrote with Wes Race, Johnny taking the lead with Rae on harmony vocals.
“Louisiana Walk” is an instrumental originally on the B-side of a 1959 Phillip Walker single and written by his then pianist Pauline ‘Lindy Lou’ Adams; it’s an excellent track with Nancy’s sax beefing up the tune as Johnny and Kid play some great stuff. Johnny then introduces Charlie Musselwhite who plays in his distictive style on three tunes: “Blues Falling” is a Jimmy Rogers tune that is played at a breakneck pace; Johnny’s “California Blues” recounts his move from Chicago to the West Coast and starts out as a slow, reflective piece that morphs into a pounding Chicago blues with Kid back on the piano and Charlie really enjoying himself with a lung-busting solo half way through; “When The Bluesman Comes To Town” slows the pace for a longer track on which Charlie plays expressively. “Jody’s Jazz” references Jody Williams’ classic riff on “Lucky Lou” in a jazzy tune with Nancy’s sax again a key feature, making a fine close to the disc.
Johnny may have dropped the ‘Rockin’’ prefix for this release but the album definitely is rocking! A brave project has reaped its due rewards and this is one to watch out for on lists of live albums of the year.