"Roots Stew" is the latest recording from 2000 W. C. Handy Award nominee, Big Jack Johnson and the Oilers. From the opening swing beat of "Jump For Joy" to the deeply reflective lyrics of "So Long Frank Frost," Big Jack Johnson takes his fans on a ride through a range of musical sounds, demonstrating the Oil Man's blues are anything but formulary.
Supported by his band, The Oilers, featuring Chris Dean on guitar, Maury "Hooter" Saslaff on bass and Dale Wise on drums; Johnson provides something to please the tastes of any blues fan. Following the swinging "Jump For Joy," Big Jack pulls off the sound of Muddy Waters with his original, "Hummingbird," reminiscent of Water's "King Bee," complete with slide guitar.
The only cover on the CD is Ivory Joe Hunter's, "Since I Met You Baby;" except this version is an instrumental and Jack clearly puts his personal stamp right on it. This is followed by one the neatest songs on the record, "Cherry Tree," with Jack playing mandolin Yank Ranchell style while he sings some raw jug band music.
"Late Night With Jack" is an extended slow blues instrumental that offers some of the most stinging guitar on the CD. On "Too Many Rats," Jack laments the loss of his pussy cat and responds to his cry of "Here Kitty, Kitty!," with a nice return meow from his guitar.
Despite his distinctive singing voice, Big Jack seems to have a keen interest in playing instrumentals. On "Going Too Far," Jack pieces together phrases from "Baby Please Don't Go," "Give Me That Old time Religion," "Delta Dawn," and She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain," into a rollicking 5 1/2 minute guitar workout.
The capstone of "Roots Stew" is the finale, "Good Bye Frank Frost." Along with Sam Carr and Big Jack Johnson, harp player Frank Frost formed the heart of the Jelly Roll Kings. When Frost passed away in 1999, Johnson wrote and performed this song at his funeral. In the song, Big Jack reflects on his own mortality, as well as that of his friend and his fellow blues men and women who have preceded him in death. It is an eerie, yet powerful, tribute to Frost and everyone who plays, or has played, the blues. It is also a fitting sequel to one of the earlier songs on the CD, "We're Trying To Do All We Can," a song that rejoices in the past, present and future contributions of the greats of the blues (He specifically mentions B. B. King, Koko Taylor, John Lee Hooker and The Blues Brothers in the song).
"Roots Stew" is Big Jack Johnson and the Oilers giving us all a glimpse of the "blues house that Jack built" and his year 2000 housewarming gift to all of his fans. Filled with joy and pain, "Roots Stew" will make a great addition to anyone's blues collection. For a copy of M. C, Records music and merchandise catalog, contact the company by telephone at (631) 754-8725 or via the internet at www.mc-records.com.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Dave "Doc Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.