Johnny & The Mongrels – Creole Skies
Johnny and the Mongrels are a great swampy and creole spiced band with a superb sound and hot new songs. Lead vocalists Johnny Ryan and Jeff Bostic front a great group on musicians and deliver a sound that is unique, fun and so very good.
The Mongrels are Johnny and Jeff on vocals (Bostic also plays bass), Scott Sharrard on guitar, Bill McKay on keyboards, Eddie Christmas on drums, and Erica Brown, Erin Callahan, Penny Lane and Scott Sharrard on backing vocals. Guest musicians are Craig Dyer on sax (opening track), Bill Goss on percussion (track 9), Roddie Romero on squeeze box (also track 9), Charlie Wooton on bass (track 3), Lee Allen Zeno on bass (track 4) and Marty Rifkin on pedal steel for three cuts. This group of performaers really deliver the good!
The band opens with “Louisiana Girl,” a funky cut with a great groove and nice horn work. The vocals are gritty and emotive and the overall sound is well done. The tenor sax solo by Craig Dreyer is a stand out, too. “Drinking With Angels” is next, a slow, swampy ballad of sorts with cool pedal steel guitar by Marty Rifkin and some good organ, too. The vocals are also oozing with emotion in this moving cut. Following that we get “Shallow Grave,” where the lead vocals are shared and we have more solemn pedal steel guitar and vocals and just a special down home feel to the song. McKay’s piano solo hearkens to days past. The funkiness is fully unleashed for “Mama Said.” Forthright vocals and another great groove gets you going and ready to dance. There is a nice guitar solo to savor and the organ adds a lot to the cut. “True Life” is a sweet, slow blues with more good vocals and another stinging guitar solo.
“Creole Skies” is next; it’s another slower blues ballad with feeling. Things move along sweetly with vocals, guitar and organ interplaying well. “Saturday Night In Oak Grove” opens and I immediately flashed back to Janis Joplin and “Move Over.” The groove is similar and then things break out with distorted vocals, and a big piano solo and a later guitar solo. It’s a wild ride and Oak Grove has to be a swinging place if this song is any indication. Up next is “Hard Way.” The pedal steel returns and howls its’ moaning sound to set a mood behind impassioned vocals. The band testifies sweetly and grab at the listener’s heart. “Music Man” has a NOLA/creole feel to it and Roddie Romero’s squeeze box certifies that for us. Another strident guitar solo and more great vocal work delivering the lyrics make another winner, and another well done piano solo just adds to the overall great sound. All good things must come to an end and here we have “Just Keep Walking” to close out the fantastic set. Funky, and a little dark, with even more emotion filled vocals that make this one interesting. The guitar and organ work again are solid and a big part of the sound . The song builds and they take us home to a fine conclusion.
Johnny & The Mongrels hearken back to bands like The Band, Professor Longhair and more, yet they are special and original in their approach. One senses their appreciation for the music that came before them and it’s enjoyable to see where they take their music. I had not heard them before, and this CD leaves me wanting even more and more. I can’t wait to hear them live some day! Most highly recommended!