As a non-player who's never been able to penetrate the eternal mystery of the instrument, I've found one of the simplest ways to measure a guitarist's prowess is to catch a live show and count the number of fellow fretmen shaking their heads in a combination of appreciation and disbelief. Having witnessed the phenomenon first-hand at a recent appearance, I can safely state that Calgary's Johnny V, leader of the YVR trio, is an absolute monster.
Fortunately, those who can't conveniently catch YVR live can still be transported to Johnny's version of blues/rock heaven via "Mustard & Relics," a thirteen-slice platter culled from a number of live dates. These represent the band's favorite takes, warts and all; they opted not to overdub or fix things up in the studio, rightfully recognizing the absurdity of tinkering with live recordings after the fact.
While Johnny's previous outings have encompassed many a style, this outing remains resolutely within the power-trio format, with Johnny's guitar crunching out the chords front and center. Backed by the (very!) muscular accompaniment of bassist Glen Yorga and drummer Andrzej Ryszka (the "Y" and "R" respectively), Johnny here favors a thick, fuzzy tone, judiciously employing effects to achieve a somewhat distorted sound reminiscent of an earlier era. Johnny keeps a firm rein on proceedings, however, never allowing technology to override the sheer musicality of his fretwork.
Liner notes mention YVR's fondness for the blues-rockers of the sixties and seventies, and the disc might be taken as homage to those heroes, back when musical exploration ruled the day and only the scholars worried too much about the authenticity of it all. Johnny wrote everything here (a couple with assistance from Richard Newell, Canada's legendary King Biscuit Boy); not one to confine himself to restrictive formulae, he mixes in elements of funk, swamp, country, and yes, plain ol' rock. Yet no one's likely to call this anything but a blues album.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on "Mustard & Relics" is just how good a singer Johnny is. There's a soulful intensity to his vocals that never seems forced; with just the right measure of grit and grease, he sounds thoroughly relaxed throughout, having as much fun as though these were the very first dates he'd ever had the pleasure of performing in public.
Ultimately, that's what makes this disc such a winner; sure the music is great, the band extraordinarily accomplished, but there's no shortage of either quality on the market; how often, though, does one hear seasoned, road-hardened veterans for whom the sheer joy of performing still shines through every groove?
Until such time as "Mustard & Relics" is snapped up by a major label (Johnny's currently shopping around), this one's well worth either a phone call or a stamp . . . either way, you and Johnny will both be very, very happy with the result!
Blow Your Top Productions
1294 Ranchlands Road NW
Calgary, AB. Canada
Phone : 403-239-4864
Fax : 403-239-5226
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