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Livin’ With The Blues 2005
(Topcat Records TCR1005)
Review Date: Nov 2007
by John Taylor
Johnny Nicholas is one of those figures who seem to flirt with the fringes of fame yet never achieve a great deal of recognition beyond his home turf. But then, his ‘home turf’ is also home to some rather high-profile friends – the guest list on “Livin’ With The Blues 2005” reads like a who’s who of blues royalty, Texas chapter. In addition to Her Tallness, the magnificent Marcia Ball, Johnny’s amigos include Greg Piccolo (formerly with Roomful of Blues), Cindy Cashdollar, Asleep At The Wheel’s Ray Benson, arranger extraordinaire Kaz Kazanoff, along with a host of names surely familiar to anyone who bothers to read liner notes. (And when your supporting cast boasts cats like Steven Bruton, Riley Osbourn, and Floyd Domino, rock-solid yet rollicking rhythms are pretty much guaranteed!).
Like the state itself, though, blues from Texas often seem somehow … well, bigger. Big enough and sufficiently wide open that influences ranging from Western Swing and Tex-Mex to the swamps of Louisiana are cheerfully incorporated into a gleeful gumbo that refuses to submit to the tyranny of categorization.
Accordingly, a bouncy ditty like “Hill Top” can comfortably follow the cajun-flavored opener, “Froggy Bottom,’ itself a two-stepper propelled by a burbling accordion. Even Brownie McGhee’s title track (sans date) employs accordion where convention would dictate the use of a saxophone (whether of the usual or ‘Mississippi’ variety). Johnny’s own “Honeydrippin’ Baby” trades unison saxes (courtesy Messrs. Piccolo and Kazanoff, surely the finest tag team in the biz) against yet more squeezebox, all to excellent effect.
And in case anyone misses the connection, the disc’s home stretch features both “Texas Drifter” (written by a friend but bearing a remarkable resemblance to Johnny’s own “Silver and Gold” from an earlier outing) and “I’m From Texas,” which could well have been lifted straight from the Asleep At The Wheel playbook, and which features novelist-turned-perennial-gubernatorial-candidate Kinky Friedman. Even the aptly-named closer, “Down In The Alley” (as greasy and low-down as its title suggests) was inspired by Johnny’s friendship with the late Texas icon, Doug Sahm (who’s surely smiling somewhere whenever this one’s played!).
Call it blues with a distinctly regional flavor, call it bluesy, call it, as Gatemouth Brown does, “American music, Texas Style”, this one is unmistakably a product of the Lone Star State. But with one of the continent’s richest, most inclusive musical cultures, Texas music translates well into any language.
This one’s a keeper – a very enjoyable keeper – all the way!
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