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The Memphis Barbecue Sessions

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Album Review

This album is a joy indeed — a journey inside the blues and down the Mississippi Delta. Johnson's always been an expressive singer, and in such a stripped-down setting his voice becomes more important than ever on classics like "Smokestack Lightning" and "My Babe." His guitar work offers the ideal backdrop, too, never fancy, but juke-joint friendly, serviceable, and offering a strong beat. Bringing in former Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson to play harmonica proves to be an inspired move — he and Johnson conjure up a blues duo from the '50s, and when legendary pianist Pinetop Perkins sits in on a couple of numbers things really smoke. The Johnson originals on the album sit comfortably next to the classic covers, and the gutbucket style assures plenty of musical muscle, with Johnson and Wilson constantly pushing each other further. Where drums do come in, on three of the 13 tracks, they might as well not be there, they're so low in the mix and offer so little — they're certainly not missed anywhere else. On the evidence here, Johnson is every bit as comfortable on his own as he is with the backing of a band, and the more intimate, live setting (the disc was recorded in two days) brings out some subtleties in his singing and playing styles that get lost in a group setting. An enjoyable and even important modern blues record.

Biography

Born: July 30, 1940 in Lambert, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Contemporary Mississippi blues didn't get any nastier than in Big Jack Johnson's capable hands. The ex-oil truck driver's axe cut like a rusty machete, his rough-hewn vocals a siren call to Delta passion. But he was a surprisingly versatile songwriter; Daddy, When Is Mama Comin' Home, his ambitious 1990 set for Earwig, found him tackling issues as varied as AIDS, wife abuse, and Chinese blues musicians in front of slick, horn-leavened arrangements. Big Jack Johnson was a chip off the old block...
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The Memphis Barbecue Sessions, Big Jack Johnson
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