Ever since Big Jack Johnson signed for MC Records in 1996, he has been cranking out albums that have deservedly garnered critical acclaim. Expect no change with the release of "The Memphis Barbecue Sessions." Whilst it may be a little different in that it is mostly acoustic, and largely features just Johnson accompanied by Kim Wilson on harp and guitar, it is right up there in terms of quality.
The album opens with first of five Johnson originals, "Oh Baby," and it sounds like Johnson and Wilson have been working together for years. There is a natural ease to the delivery that makes it hard to believe the album was recorded live in the studio. The ensuing "Humming Blues," where the duo are joined by Pinetop Perkins and Mark Carpentieri (drums), merely serves to confirms the first impressions. The two accompanists return later for "Lonesome Road."
Although the album is dominated by covers, they have mostly been arranged and adapted to suit the duo. Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning," for example, is a shade less brooding than the original, but none the worse for it. And "My Babe" is tackled as an instrumental, allowing Wilson to show that he knows how to lead from the front on harp. Elsewhere Wilson lays down his harp to play guitar on Johnson's "I'm Going Out Walking" where he also shares vocals.
The last original track is the excellent "Humming Bird" which sounds like a near relative of "I'm A King Bee." The duo then round things off with a trio of covers. The first is a lively version of Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man." Then after a backporch arrangement of Guitar Slim's "The Things That I Used To Do," the duo bring proceedings to a close with a fine reading of "Dust My Broom" where producer Carpentieri slips back onto the drum seat.
"The Memphis Barbecue Sessions" is an excellent album. The combination of Johnson and Wilson is an inspired one. The addition of Pinetop Perkins as special guest on a couple of tracks is an extra bonus. The only downside to the whole recording is that Sam Carr, who was lined up to play drums, fell ill at the last minute (which is why producer and regular Johnson collaborator Mark Carpentieri stepped in). Make no mistake, when the awards for 2002 get handed out, "The Memphis Barbecue Sessions" is going to take some beating.
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