Ernie Johnson's In the Mood, on Waldoxy, is the latest release from the sister label to Malaco and was quite a pleasant surprise. Johnson is a veteran soul-blues singer who most recently had an album on Jewel that really did not leave much of an impression on this writer. Producers Paul ‘Heavy’ Lee and Tommy Couch Jr. took Johnson down to Muscle Shoals where with a crack rhythm section anchored by drummer Lee, and the solid keyboards of Clayton Ivey along with Big Mike Griffin’s guitar, produced a superb collection of blues and southern soul that echoes Bobby Bland, Otis Redding and other masters.
Johnson’s opening I’m in the Mood For the Blues is a striking song, quite suggestive of some of Bobby Bland’s better Malaco recordings, and the similarities between Johnson and Bland is perhaps most evident here in the phrasing of his slightly raspy voice. Don’t Waste My Time, another Johnson original, is a slow blues with some piercing guitar from Griffin while Ivey’s down-in-the-alley Hammond B-3 helps form the bottom with the Muscle Shoals Horns crisply punching out the arrangements.
There is a strong Johnson ballad, I Love You, where Johnson's slightly quivering vocal is suggestive of how Otis Redding might have sounded if he had recorded with the Hi Rhythm Section. Like this entire album, the studio band here is first-rate, and the backing vocals effectively employed. Similar flavor can be found in the Jackson-Barranco composition, Hold On. But, these are only the highest peaks on what is a consistently soulful disc that may be the best of many fine releases on Waldoxy/Malaco to be issued this year.
The above review was originally published in the October 1995 DC Blues Calendar, the newsletter of the DC Blues Society, which I edited at the time and the November 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 206). I received my review copy from Malaco/Waldoxy. Here is a clip of Ernie Johnson performing.