Blue Diamonds is a collaboration of a few core members of the Joel Johnson Band and a few very talented friends. Leading the list is the superb singer, Grana' (pronounced gra-nay) Louise, the center piece on this line-up of gems. Hit The Big Time, their first release, is also a collection of jewels from the beautifully written and arranged originals to a handful of well chosen covers. While it's all good, the original tunes on the CD are clearly highlights.
Backing up Grana' Louise is Joel Johnson on guitar and vocals, John Franken on lead and slide guitar, Jon Norstad on drums, Jack Taylor on bass, Glen Graham on tenor sax, and Tom Burns on harmonica. Sharing writing duties are Joel Johnson, Jacquie Johnson, Glen Graham and John Franken. Glen takes the band through his instrumental, "Jug Or Not," a tribute to Gene Ammons. John Franken leads the group through his instrumental "Messin" while Joel takes on the lead vocals on one of his tunes, "Ain't Good Lookin." He also shares a duet with Grana' on "Won't Somebody Tell Me" to close the set. Other highlights feature Grana's vocals on "How Come My Bulldog Don't Bark"; the Nina Simone classic, "Sugar In My Bowl;" and a particularly strong performance on "Hip Shakin' Woman."
Hit The Big Time is a triumph for the Blue Diamonds, and also for the new Diamond Blue label, owned by Joel and Jacquie Johnson. Hit The Big Time is solid blues from downtown to uptown and all stops in between.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Kurt Koehler, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.