Self-Release – 2017
13 tracks; 64 minutes
JR Clark is a guitarist, singer and songwriter from Michigan and this is his fourth studio album. His band bears the impressive title of ‘The Allstar Blues Mob’ and bassist Johnny B Gayden (Albert Collins) and Buddy Guy/Magic Slim drummer Jerry ‘Bam Bam’ Porter are certainly very experienced musicians, alongside keyboard player Willie Styles. A horn section of Johnny Cotton (trombone) and Kenny Anderson (trumpet) add additional firepower to five tracks. JR wrote all the material bar one track and Johnny B had a hand in three arrangements. The album was recorded at JoyRide Studios in Chicago by Blaise Barton and Brian Leach who adds egg shaker, tambourine and ‘Fish’ on “Shakin’ Margaritas”.
The CD opens strongly with the power of the horns driving the title track “January Rain”. JR has a good voice and plays some striking guitar, very much in the Larry McCray, Michael Burks mould. Johnny B’s bass is right up in the mix and adds a funky bottom end to the tale of the girl who is staying out late, arousing JR’s suspicion.
Fans of classic soul music will love “It’s A Big Old World” with JR’s rhythm work underpinning a fine keyboard solo before JR brings out a nicely rounded solo that fits the soulful vibe perfectly (though for this reviewer the Barry White-style spoken section could have been dropped). Similarly “I Fell In Love All Over Again” is classic Philly soul material which JR sings well in a slightly lighter voice, the horns adding to the chorus and JR’s solo fitting well with the mood created by Willie’s excellent electric piano solo.
Two tracks are dedicated to departed guitarists: “Train” is dedicated to Luther Allison and features some appropriately tough guitar and “Still My Baby” thunders along in a good imitation of Magic Slim, JR singing in a harder voice. “Something Funny” discusses hunger, homelessness and unemployment on a tune with a reggae influence. JR ups the tempo on the rocking “Hard Workin’” which has plenty of boogie piano on an autobiographical song about life as a bluesman – broken down van, late arrival at the gig, etc. “Storm Blowin’” equates relationships to storms (“I’ll pick you up when you fall down, will you do the same?”) and is a lyrical song with swirling organ and an extended and dramatic solo from JR, a definite highlight.
Similarly exciting guitar embellishes “After Midnight” as JR reflects on some of the worrying features of our society such as drugs on the streets and racism. Ringing guitars that sound a little like ZZ Top and solid rocking accompaniment feature on “Your Good Loving”. The horns return on the final track, the only cover here, James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World”, which JR delivers well, sticking reasonably close to the original and giving us one more fine solo before the album ends.
Two comic songs lighten the serious mood of some of the songs here: on “Shakin’ Margaritas” JR has lots of fun with rhymes as Maria works her cocktail magic in the bar, watched by all the guys as uncredited flute and shakers add a different feel; “Hot Lunch Mama” finds JR admiring an attractive lady heading for her regular lunch date with some some double meaning lyrics and fine rolling piano work.
Overall this is an impressive album with no weak tracks. The horns are superb on the tracks on which they feature but the band is strong enough to entertain us throughout the album. This was the first this reviewer had heard of JR Clark but he someone to watch out for. This CD is available from CD Baby and comes recommended!