David Johansen & The Harry Smiths
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With this album, David Johansen embarks on what could possibly be the fourth phase of his career. His first three, of course, were his tenure as lead singer of the punk rock group the New York Dolls, a solo career as a mainstream rocker under his own name, and a lengthy stint as his nightclub singer alter-ego Buster Poindexter. Like that last manifestation, the "David Johansen and the Harry Smiths" act is one developed in New York clubs that has now spread to a recording. Inspired by the celebrated 1997 reissue of the Anthology of American Folk Music, a sprawling compilation of '20s and '30s country and blues recordings assembled by musicologist Harry Smith, Johansen and a quartet dubbed "the Harry Smiths" developed a repertoire of songs from the Anthology along with blues and folk-blues songs by the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and Mississippi John Hurt, and threw in songs Johansen had occasionally performed in his other careers — Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talking," which the Dolls used to perform, and "Somebody Buy Me a Drink," which Buster Poindexter was known to warble now and then. The resulting set, reproduced on disc here, is a good mixture of material effectively performed. Johansen, of course, has a gruff, deep voice well-suited to blues songs and a bravura personality that can put across some of the showier numbers. Blues purists may be offended at the idea of Johansen inventing a bluesman character to sing such songs, but, as the use of his real name indicates, this is intended to be a more serious undertaking than the essentially comic Buster Poindexter show. The singer's adoption of this material is no more or less valid than that of any other urban white performer of the last 40 years, and you can hardly dismiss this as a commercial sell-out. On the contrary, the versions are low-key and true to the originals. It remains to be seen whether David Johansen will succeed in reinventing himself yet again, but on the evidence of this album, there's no reason why not.
Born: 09 January 1950 in Staten Island, NY
Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s