Shirley Johnson has a voice sometimes reminiscent of E.C. Scott, sometimes of Shirley Brown or Jeannie Cheatham. To say she's in possession of some serious pipes qualifies as a major understatement. Her background in gospel (she still sings with her own gospel group) and that formidable vocal prowess are heard to superb effect on this stellar session.
At 53, she's no novice to the blues, having recorded on a few Delmark comps and put in serious club time. She cut a few 45s way back ago and has opened for ZZ Hill, Aretha Franklin and other major players over the years. Still, you can be sure she saved some mojo for this debut disc.
Her version of the Albert King classic "As the Years Go Passing By" (with wonderful guitar work from Johnny B. Moore) is stunning. When she bites into "Your Turn to Cry" (with Robert Ward on guitar), the effect is equally impressive. John Primer (check out "Somebody Have Mercy"), Maurice Jon Vaughn (especially on the Lieber & Stoller chestnut "Saved") and Rockin' Johnny make appearances on guitar throughout, which certainly helps propel Johnson. This is no charity ball, though. One suspects the heavyweight crew was not brought in as the hired guns. Rather, they were probably standing in line for the opportunity to record with this swizzling singer. Her takes on Hendrix's "Little Wing" is surprisingly sweet and
her own "Missed the Best Chance" is a gorgeous piece of balladry. Fourteen tunes with nary a clinker in the bunch, this is first-class straight ahead Chicago and wholly impressive.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Mark E. Gallo, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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