Roger Daltrey is reborn inside this shuffling groove, as Wilko Johnson’s “I Keep It To Myself” transports the longtime Who frontman to an era that predates bombastic rock operas — or even the period when his old band put the “maximum” in R&B. No, this is primordial, way before that. This is deep blues, reworked by a pub rock band for the ages.
The song, which arrives in advance of their collaborative Going Back Home, couldn’t more perfectly fit Daltrey’s voice — weathered, as it is these days, following decades of arena-rock yowling. Rather than reaching into the toppermost of his age-corrected range, however, Daltrey sits in a gruff comfort zone. Along the way, he happily inhabits the grizzled crag this lyric demands, and sharply reasserts his own legend apart from Pete Townshend.
Then there’s Johnson, the punky former Dr. Feelgood guitarist who’s been battling pancreatic cancer, smartly tangling with the harmonica, likewise energized by Daltrey. There’s a symbiotic thrill to “I Keep It To Myself,” as two legends — both of them with something to prove — seem to feed off of one another.
Going Back Home, due April 8, 2014 via Hip-O Records, arrives nearly six months after Johnson’s doctors told him he’d die, and more than a year after he launched what was supposed to be a farewell tour. In the meantime, he been working with two other former Blockheads in Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe, on bass and drums respectively, as well as harp man Steve Weston and keyboardist Mike Talbot, formerly of Style Council.