Brent Johnson was born in south Texas, but having spent most of his life in New Orleans, he’s more of a Louisiana guitar slinger than a Lone Star State one. That puts him alongside other Big Easy singer-songwriter blues guitar practitioners such as Anders Osborne, Tommy Malone and Johnson’s mentor, the great Braille blues daddy Bryan Lee. Like his Big Easy brethren, Johnson isn’t so much concerned playing the blues strictly by the book as long as the feel is there, and a little folk, funk and a taste of New Orleans RnB never hurt anyone.
Truth is, there aren’t nearly enough of these blues types around and that’s why Johnson’s official entry to the ranks with his debut Set The World On Fire (out April 8, 2014) is so, so welcome. Johnson tours with his Call Up rhythm section of John Perkins (drums) and Bill Blok (bass), but like Lee, Johnson added the heavy soul of an organ or an electric piano, by way of Wayne Lohr, for his record. For good measure, he brought in a couple of other guitar slingers to help out on a handful of tracks. More on them in a just a minute.
The album gets off of blistering start with the “Don’t Make A Sound” tune that whetted our appetite a couple of weeks back. “Don’t Take It With You” is a blissful mix of a four-on-the floor beat, a rock disposition and slashing, SRV licks. “Set The World On Fire” is not a blazing flame, but a nice, slow simmering slice of soul, and featuring one of Johnson’s many tasty solos. He pours his soul out for thirteen minutes on the blues ballad made famous by Albert King, “As The Years Go Passing By.” (Note: hats off to Johnson and his record company Justin Time for playing at least one tune letting it all hang out and give us listeners a real taste of how the boys sound live).
Johnson is not just a guitarist and composer, he’s a singer, too, and his gruff vocal fits the bill. Yet, there’s always the instrumental blues shuffle “The Hucklebuck” to give us no vocals, just some spirited back-and-forth between Johnson and Lohr.
Oh, and those guest guitarists? Alvin Youngblood Hart trades strikes with Johnson on three cuts; for Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me In The Morning” Johnson slides over to, ahem, slide as Hart counters with some gritty, old school blues lines. “Long Way Back to New Orleans” is, as the title signifies, is Mardi Gras fun with lively second-line beat and a swampy slide, this time performed by the one-of-a-kind Sonny Landreth.
Set The World On Fire is not just an album title, it’s a boast, and Brent Johnson and the Call Up back it up. If you like any of the blues heavies mentioned here, then Johnson is bound to become one of your favorites, too. Best of all, he’s just getting started.
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Visit Brent Johnson and The Call Up’s Facebook page for more info. Feature photo credit: Matt Touchard