Whitey Johnson – More Days Like This
Recording under his alter-ego, Gary Nicholson becomes Whitey Johnson, a blues man based on a short story Nicholson wrote about a night in a small Texas town (available to read on the website listed). A prolific songwriter, Nicholson tunes have been recorded by a wide range of artists across the entire scope of American music. Few artists can boast of having their material covered by Buddy Guy, Keb’ Mo’, Delbert McClinton, B.B. King, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Jimmy Thackery, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, John Prine, and Ringo Starr. A second disc, under his real name, shared the release date. That album, The Great Divide, found Nicholson sharing his heartfelt observations on the the current state of affairs in our country. (http://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/gary-nicholson-the-great-divide-album-review/ )
Of the ten tracks, Nicholson wrote three songs, co-writing the rest with Seth Walker on two, Tom Hambridge on three, and McClinton, Guy Clark, Arthur Alexander, Donnie Fritts, and Thackery also lending a hand. One of Nicholson’s songs, “Friction,” is grinding, loping rhythm sparked by strong horn accents provided by Dana Robbins on saxophones and Quentin Ware on coronet and trumpet, as he bemoans a woman who doesn’t know how to moderate the criticism. The subtle guitar interplay between Nicholson and Colin Linden helps to make this track a highlight. Written with Hambridge, “The Blues Is Alive And Well” is the title cut from the latest Buddy Guy release. Nicholson’s version is taken at a faster pace with a harder edge, giving the song a different type of urgency. Another highlight is “Upside Of Lonely,” featuring a laid-back, humorous vocal running through all of the advantages of finding yourself living the single life. Kevin McKendree dazzles on piano, McClinton adds some mournful harmonica tones, and Nicholson picks a taut guitar solo. Another co-write with Hambridge, “Skin Deep,” finds the McCrary Sisters – Regina, Ann, Freda – backing Nicholson’s stirring vocal, giving the track a touch of the church on yet another lead song from one of Guy’s earlier releases.
While Nicholson/Johnson sounds right at home with the blues, he really excels on songs like “Starting A Rumor,” a soulful lament about a man plotting a desperate plan to ignite a spark in an unrequited love affair. The title cut is a breezy celebration of the joy of love, anchored by the accomplished rhythm section comprised of Mike Joyce on bass and Lynn Williams on the drums, and a moving solo from Robbins on tenor sax. The tender ballad, “If It’s Really Gotta Be This Way,” is another standout track, sounding like some of Dan Penn’s best work, with McKendree and Dennis Wage sharing the keyboard responsibilities.
“Soulshine,” a Nicholson original, rolls along in fine style, yet again celebrating the joys of real love. Jimmy Hall adds the backing vocal. Another original, “Hold What I Got,” is old-school soul, the kind of tune that Sam & Dave would have covered for a hit. “High Time” is a road song with a boogie beat, Johnson/Nicholson heading to New Orleans for a epic frolic with like-minded woman, with the singer promising, “I got that bottle of wine, the real high dollar kind. I got the West Coast smoke – better just take one toke”. The horns liven things up and Nicholson once again impresses on the guitar.
These days, most artists or bands struggle to put together a solid program of songs for a project, material that consistently rises above the filler quality level. The depth of Gary Nicholson’s talent is evident across his tandem releases, especially as Whitey Johnson. His versions of “Skin Deep” and “The Blues Is Alive And Well” offer varied approaches that lead to different layers of emotional rendering. More importantly, his songs have the hooks to grab your attention, lyrics that address real feelings at an adult level without preaching, delivered in his easy-going style with a voice that seems to wrap listeners up in its warmth. Whether he wants to be himself or Whitey Johnson, Gary Nicholson an artist that deserves to be heard.