Big Jack Johnson's name should need little or no introduction to blues fans considering that he and his band, The Oilers, log well over 200 dates a year on the road. He's gone from driving an oil delivery truck around Mississippi to showing up at sold out festivals, appearing on the covers of national blues publications, and has issued some well-received recordings that feature his modernistic, down-home approach. With "The Memphis Barbecue Sessions," joined by Kim Wilson's unmistakable harp, plus Pinetop Perkins' tasteful piano, and producer, Mark Carpentieri, who adds laid-back percussive work, this Big Jack CD has a back-at-home feel all over it. Clocking in at close to an hour, with superb audio, the focus seems more like old friends playing for their own enjoyment rather than an actual produced performance, and while Sam Carr was slated to be on hand for the drumming duties, he missed out due to an illness.
Comprised of a baker's dozen, every track exudes a kinship that seems only to appear in the blues realm, when artists get together to have fun and let the tape roll. Johnson takes writing credit for five of the cuts, yet those that fall under other's names are still crisp in the original delivery, due in large part to the floating verses strung together by Johnson's voice, one that seems to have aged in an oak barrel with the finest Southern bourbon. "Oh Baby" (with inspiration from Muddy Waters) finds Jack and Kim alone for a solid down-home feel, and "Humming Blues" has Pinetop and Carpentieri adding nicely. Although "Don't Care Nothing" is credited to Little Walter, it's more of an original, especially with Johnson's fine mandolin picking and Wilson's unamplified harp, while Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning" features Big Jack on electric guitar, one of a small handful. "I'm Going Out Walking," another solid original, features Johnson and Wilson sharing both guitar and vocal duties, and Wilson is certainly impressive showing sensitive accompaniment, rooted in Delta tradition. Little Walter's "My Babe" is taken as an instrumental, giving a tired warhorse new life, and it could be that Johnson drove his counterpart further than planned; Wilson can be clearly heard at the conclusion saying, "I need a towel!" John Lee Williamson's "Blue Bird," although credited to John Lee Hooker, offers Johnson playing amplified, T-Bone Walker licks, and the backwoods feel of "Lonesome Road" comes from the juke-like assistance of Perkins' blued piano and Carpentieri's unobtrusive percussion work. Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man" finds Wilson's harp with perhaps a little more depth, thanks to the small amount of reverb added, while Guitar Slim's "Things I Used To Do," uses a walking shuffle instead of its more familiar slow groove, and comes across as fresh as anything else here. The closer, "Dust My Broom," rides closely to the initial version Elmore James recorded for the Trumpet label, thanks to Wilson recreating classic Sonny Boy Williamson fills.
There's no flash here, just solid, down-home, Delta-inspired blues by a native of Mississippi, and one who seems to be an adopted son of the region. Kim Wilson has shown up on countless recordings by others in a wide variety of formats, simply because he knows what to play, and when to play, never leaving overbearing additions in his wake. He fits effortlessly on "The Memphis Barbecue Sessions," and Big Jack Johnson has come forward with yet another highly rewarding look at his talents. Special kudos to Mark Carpentieri, first for knowing that the 'less-is-more school' falls into the lap of a producer just as often as it does a musician's, and his understated, rhythmic sense of percussion, while Pinetop Perkins deserves honors for putting in exceptional piano. You can email email@example.com or hit their website at www.mc-records.com for more information, including schedules, available titles, and more.
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