Jimmy Johnson's "Every Road Leads Somewhere." (RUF Records 51416 1455 2) has been nominated as "Best Blues Album of the Year" for the 2000 W. C. Handy Awards. Following the release of this recording in August 1999, Delmark Records released a second CD by Jimmy Johnson in October 1999. Delmark's release, "North//South," represents material recorded by Johnson back in 1981 and 1982 that is every bit as good as the more recently recorded material on "Every Road Leads Somewhere." The key difference between these two recordings is the fact the Johnson is backed by a combo on "North//South" that does not include a full horn section, creating a basic Chicago sound that allows Johnson's vocals and guitar to assume a more prominent role in every song on the CD.
"North//South" includes nine original tunes by Jimmy Johnson, backed by Carl P. Snyder (drums), Larry Exum (bass) and Ike Davis (drums). The recording features work on several tunes by Larry Burton (2nd guitar), Criss Johnson (2nd guitar) and Professor Eddie Lusk (keyboards). Johnson has always offered listeners a unique sound both vocally and instrumentally. His voice is rich, with a quality that may suggest gospel more than blues. Nevertheless, his treatment of the songs on the CD have a nice blusey, soulful sound to them that remains very appealing. Equally unique is his guitar that, while not flashy, is very clean, fast and well-phrased as demonstrated on the CD's instrumental, "Walking On Thin Ice".
The songs on the CD range from straight up Chicago style blues exemplified by songs like "Can't Go No Further," a great slow blues with an excellent piano solo by Carl P. Snyder, to the soulful "A Woman Ain't Supposed To Be Hard" which includes some excellent guitar by Jimmy Johnson. On "Talkin' Bout Chicago," Johnson lets second guitarist, Criss Johnson take the guitar solo with excellent results. With Jimmy's rich vocals, "Talkin' Bout Chicago" is very reminiscent of the sound created by Jimmy's brother Syl Johnson on Syl's record of the same name.
Besides the instrumental, "Walking On Thin Ice," my favorite songs on the CD are the more up tempo songs "Track To Run" and "I Can't Survive." Both feature Johnson's distinctive vocals and signature guitar. Because the recording is not over produced, it has a distinct "live" feel to it that is very representative of what you would hear at a live performance by the Jimmy Johnson Band.
Of the two recordings released by Johnson in 1999, "Every Road Leads Somewhere" may receive greater notice and accolades, but "North//South" is every bit as good a recording as you will ever hear from Jimmy Johnson. The fact that "North//South" was recorded over fifteen years earlier only shows the listener that Jimmy Johnson's work has been able to withstand the test of time.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.