Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Luther "Guitar Jr" Johnson Is Talkin' About Soul

Before joining Muddy Waters band, Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson had been a veteran of the West Side Chicago blues scene, playing for a period with Magic Sam and developed a strong style that blended in a strong dose of rhythm and blues flavoring in his music. That element has stayed with Johnson since he pursued a solo career. His new Telarc album, Talkin‘ About Soul, probably gives a stronger emphasis to this aspect of his music.

He is joined by a excellent studio band that includes David Maxwell‘s splendid piano, former Johnny Copeland sideman, Randy Lippincott‘s solid bass and fellow Waters‘ alumni Jerry Portnoy on harmonica. Opening with the title tune, a funky original by Johnson, he does an entertaining, but hardly overwhelming reading of Ray Charles‘ I‘ve Got a Woman which is followed by a solid rendition of Sam Cooke‘s Somebody Have Mercy, which may pale next to Cooke‘s original but is superior to Otis Rush‘s tepid rendition of a few years ago.

Next up is a nice medley of the Isley Brothers‘ It‘s Your Thing with Bobby Rush‘s adaptation of the Isley’s melody, I‘ll Pay You Back, which was a single by Magic Sam that was issued around the time of Sam‘s death. Some down home harp lends a bluesy flavor to the interpretation of Bobby Charles‘ soul ballad of back-stabbing folk, Why Are People Like That, while Johnson does a nice job with Freddie King‘s Lonesome Whistle Blues.

Ramblin‘ Blues is an attractive acoustic flavored number while a medley of You‘ve Got Bad Intentions with Crying Won‘t Help You is a solid blues performance. Suffer So Hard With The Blues is a terrific performance that is fervently sung and played, and suggestive of some of Buddy Guy‘s Chess recordings.

Overall, this is a nice mix of well played material that is sung with heart.

I have made minor revisions in the original review that appeared in the July-August 2001 Jazz & Blues Report.   Here is a video of Luther in performance.

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