Richard Johnston is a member of the "new wave" of hill country blues artists currently seeking to carry on the traditions of the style's forefathers including Junior Kimbrough, R. L. Burnside, T- Model Ford, Robert Belfour and others. Although Johnston has not achieved the high public profile of bands like the North Mississippi Allstars, he has been able to spread the gospel of the blues through his hard work on the streets of Memphis, as well as in his travels in the United States and abroad, playing the music with a fire in his belly. The seminal one-man band, Johnston is a spectacle to behold as he works guitar, harp, vocals and drums for each of his solo productions.
Foothill Stomp is Richard Johnston's debut recording for his self-created FTRC Produkshuns. Paid for with his winnings from the 2001 International Blues Talent Competition hosted by the Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee, Richard Johnston makes his star shine even brighter with each new listener who spins this exceptional CD. Along with the fine musical presentation, this CD is uniquely wonderful for it inclusion of hill country blues queen, Jessie Mae Hemphill. Hemphill, who was one of the first high profile artists from the hill country with her recordings She Wolf and Feelin' Good on Hightone Records, suffered a debilitating stroke several years ago that curtailed her budding musical career. Her Foothill Stomp appearance on vocals and tambourine are particularly touching and emotional. Other musicians appearing on the CD include drummer Cedric Burnside (R.L. Burnside's nephew), Mark Simpson and Robert Tooms.
Foothill Stomp opens with two songs performed with minimal accompaniment, assisted on Rainey Burnette's Miss Maebelle by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms on harmonica and by Mark Simpson on 2nd guitar with Tony Rae Adams on percussion and three pitch whistle for Junior Kimbrough's classic, "Do the Romp." These two excellent tunes are followed by two more, this time in the one-man band style that Johnston has sharpened over his tenure as a blues musician and performer. On "Coal Black Mattie" and "Catfish Blues/Feel Good Little Girl," Johnston is at his solo best, stamping out rhythms with his feet, playing some stellar guitar and singing with raw emotion and power.
As the CD progresses, Johnston goes in a slightly different direction including other musicians in his repertoire for songs written by Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside. On Kimbrough's "Work Me Baby," Johnston is assisted on guitar and harp by Lowe Bow-Hill and Cedric Burnside on drums. Based on the album credits, "Work Me Baby" appears to be the only song where Johnston is not playing any instruments, performing only on vocals. R. L. Burnside's "Come On In" features Robert Tooms on harp and Cedric Burnside on drums. It is interesting how Johnston's sound changes with additional musicians, yet how complete his sound stays when he performs as a one-man band. Either way, the "size" of his sound is amazing.
Far and away, my three favorite songs on Foothill Stomp are the final three; "That's No Way To Get Along," "The Shaggy Hound" and "Chicken and Gravy." Besides the fact that Richard Johnston is exceptional on guitar, vocals and washboard, the crown in these jewels is the addition of Jessie Mae Hemphill on the recording. Whether it is her background commentary, her rattling tambourine or the vocals on her original song, "Chicken and Gravy," I was moved by her mere presence on the recording. Jessie Mae is one classy woman and loved by everyone who knows her. Jessie Mae is a Mississippi hill country treasure and an admittedly valued addition to the recording, as indicated in the liner notes. Personally, I loved the lyrical exchange between Jessie Mae and Richard on "Chicken and Gravy," having repeated playing that song nearly every time I had it on the CD player at home or in my car.
Foothill Stomp is an excellent recording and one that should help to propel Richard Johnston into the forefront of the blues community. His skill as a performer and his dedication to the music is quite notable on this CD and in his live performances. To pick up a copy of Foothill Stomp, visit Richard Johnston's website at www.richardjohnston.com. In addition to picking up the CD, you can find out more about Richard Johnston, check out his performance schedule and see some cool pictures of him with Jessie Mae Hemphill and others.
Simply click on the CD cover at left to order this CD NOW!
This review is copyright © 2002 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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