Johnny Tanner – Juke Joint Rambler | Album Review

johnnytannercdJohnny Tanner – Juke Joint Rambler

Self-produced CD

14 songs – 45 minutes

Veteran straight-ahead harmonica player and vocalist Johnny Tanner steps away from his regular unit, His Aces, based in Phoenix, Ariz., for this all-star laced retrospective gathered from two California recording sessions – Pasadena in 1997 and Berkeley in 2001. The resulting product is a well-paced collection of blues that, despite sitting in the can for the past 14 years, delivers with a warm, contemporary feel.

Tanner has been active musically for the better part of the past 40 years. One of his first bands, the Seattle-based Blue Lights Band, featured Barrelhouse Chuck on keyboards, and produced one song – “When Mt. St. Helen’s Blows It’s Top” – that received wide airplay after the volcano erupted a short while later. He’s toured widely and shared the staged with a who’s who of the blues scene, including Sunnyland Slim, Lazy Lester, Lil’ Ed and Eddie C. Campbell, among many others. His harp playing is rock-steady in a traditional style on both diatonic and chromatic, and his energetic tenor vocals swing steadily throughout.

Two of the most prominent West Coast guitar players – Junior Watson in Pasadena and Rusty Zinn in Berkeley – are featured prominently throughout in sets that vary between jump and Chicago stylings. The Southern California set also includes the Hollywood Fats band rhythm section – Fred Kaplan on keys, Larry Taylor on bass and the late Richard Innes, to whom the CD is dedicated, on drums – aided by sax players Jeff Turmes and Tom Faberge. Innes also holds down the bottom on the Bay Area set with Randy Bermudes on bass. Chicago veteran Billy Flynn shares guitar duties with Zinn and takes the lead on two numbers.

The Little Walter standard “I Got To Go” kicks off the set, aided by a steady guitar-driven rhythm pattern from Zinn and Flynn, before Watson propels “Lovey Dovey” with a driving guitar solo beneath and between Tanner’s vocals. The Tanner original “Searchin’ The World Over” follows, featuring a high-register harmonica solo in the style of Jimmy Reed, as he sings about a lost love. The theme continues for the horn- and keyboard-fueled “Bring Her Back To Me.”

A traditional vocal take on Guitar Slim’s “I Done Got Over It” features the horn section before Tanner launches into “It Ain’t Right,” the first of two Little Walter covers in the set. Next up, the original, “Blue Vapor,” is a slow burner that provides plenty of space for Johnny to work out on the diatonic in a number that shines above the rest. Another tip of the hat to Chicago follows, with Tanner sandwiching covers of two Sonny Boy Williamson tunes — “Checking On My Baby” and “Stop Breaking Down,” — around Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Don’t Know.”

Two originals — “Run Around Woman” and “Lighthouse For My Soul” – bookend Little Walter’s “Nobody But You” (featuring Flynn) before another original, the instrumental “Out Arizona Way,” concludes the set.

There’s a timelessness to the blues, and that feature is clearly evident here. Available through CDBaby or Amazon, Tanner delivers a disc that’s just as fresh as the days it was recorded. Perfect for anyone who loves traditional blues delivered in a clean, uncluttered manner. Fine musicianship’s on display throughout.

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