by Sean Hurley
I was listening to Big Johnny Blue on his eponymous-named CD, trying to find words to describe the recordings, when I realized I was tapping along to all seven tracks. He had me.
Crown Point resident John Crawford, who is Big Johnny Blue, recorded his CD, he told me, at MCAudio Recordings on Concession Street, by plugging the instruments into the mixing board and just playing. With all the tools of the trade available to recording studios and music producers today, that may seem somewhat, well, retro. But it was worth it. I defy anyone to sit and listen to “PB & J”, the fifth track, and not turn it up.
Then leave the volume up for “In Amerikah”, an anti-consumerist anthem that would have been perfectly happy on Neil Young’s 1988 album, This Note’s for You. This is a seriously rocking song with a driving rhythm creating a wave of sound surfed by a lead guitar that knows exactly what it’s doing. Despite its feel of a grunge rock anthem, “In Amerikah” captures the zeitgeist of the times we live.
I first listened to the CD in my car, in a hurry to get up the mountain to Hamilton’s hinterland and that did it no justice. I played it again on my home stereo and I’m glad I did. The drum work of Robin Houston and the bass guitar of Michael Gleseking are rock solid. Big Johnny and Wayne Janus share guitar duties. Janus contributes what I can only describe as a mournful guitar sound on “I’m Hurtin’” and “Don’t Cry for Me”, two rocking blues numbers more on the heavier side but remaining firmly on the blues side of the fence. “Ramona Blue” and “You Drive Me Baby Blue” fit more into contemporary electric guitar blues—at home wherever the blues are loved. “Bee Bop Rocket” is that rarity in blues: a happy rocking song. It’s tempting to call this number rock’n’roll, but really it provides a pleasant musical insight into the roots of early popular music.
Because of (or perhaps in spite of) the recording method, this CD has a really great sound. The music comes across authentically and places the listener into the set. It’s not perfect, but it’s as close to live as one can get without being there. This is a sit-down-and-play-it-loud CD to really get into and enjoy this 35 minutes of tight playing.
Although “In Amerikah” is, in my view, a rock song, overall this is definitely a blues record. The remaining six songs represent a couple of the different branches along the evolution of American blues music. As well as appealing to long-time blues fans, this CD will also serve to introduce the genre’s versatility to blues newbies.
Get your copy at Crash Landing on Cannon just west of Ottawa Street North or catch Big Johnny Blue at his CD party, May 11th, at the Pearl Company.