Filled With Sound: From Bill Johnson to David Bowie

By Mike Greenblatt

Bill JohnsonCanadian Bill Johnson has a great voice. It’s what holds his self-released fourth album “Cold Outside” together…that, and his compositional prowess. The dude knows how to string some sentences into a cohesive whole, make ‘em rhyme, and have ‘em come out profound. To hear him sing his 11 originals while playing guitar and leading his keyboards/bass/drums band is to feel what he’s feeling. His is a communicable enthusiasm, be it the “Nine Dollar Bill” he’s trying to pass or what “Makes A Fella Nervous” totin’ around his “Angry Guitar” with “My Natural Ability,” “Free From My Trouble.”Highlights all, Johnson rolls with a savvy flair.

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Larry Wilson self-portraitWhen not serving in the Music Ministry of his hometown St. Paul Church in Jacksonville, Florida, Larry Wilson is a producer, session musician, music biz exec, arranger, husband, father, sideman to the brilliant pianist Marcus Roberts and indie artist whose self-released “No Secrets No Lies” is an acoustic and electronic delight. Wilson can do it all: this 13-track jazz/soul/gospel/fusion/pop gem has him on drums, Hammond B-3 organ, Fender Rhodes, various synthesizers, bass and vocals. Plus, he’s got help: more keyboards, bass (3), alto sax (2), tenor sax (3), trumpet, flugelhorn, guitar, trombone (2) and two more vocalists. He totally reinvents “The Lord’s Prayer,” Freddie Hubbard’s 1967 “Little Sunflower,” the 1983 Debarge hit “Love Me In A Special Way” and the closing 1932 chestnut “April In Paris.”

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TRB_cover.inddI am loving “Texas Rhody Blues” (JP Cadillac Records) by the Knickerbocker All-Stars with special guests Jimmy Vaughan and Duke Robillard. It’s a blues bonanza that links Texas Blues with Rhode Island by way of the Knickerbocker Music Center, a non-profit school in Westerly, RI, that the sale of this CD will benefit. With a hot-tootin’ big-band behind four different vocalists on material like Jimmy McCracklin’s “You’ve Got Me Licked,” Lowell Fulson’s “I Still Love You Baby,” Gatemouth Brown’s “Ain’t That Dandy,” Guitar Slim’s “Reap What You Sow,” Honeyboy Patt’s “Blood Stains On The Wall” and eight more.

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Ian Faquini + Paula Santoro“Esoteric Delight of the Month” has to be “Metal na Madeira” (Ridgeway Records) by the duo of Ian Faquini + Paula Santoro. The latter’s voice and the former’s guitar combine to dredge up a traditional Northeastern Brazil art form called Xylography wherein wood is chiseled into an image by use of a metal object (translate the Portuguese title into English and it’s, indeed, “Metal on Wood”). Her voice is the metal. His guitar is the wood. The nine originals bespeak a quiet elegance amidst its usage of five different Brazilian rhythms, indigenous to five different geographical locales. It’s a dreamy ride down the Sao Francisco River and you don’t even need a paddle. Just fall under the sway of these tropical sensations. Faquini is a dexterous yet facile guitarist who is now a professor at the California Jazz Conservatory. Santoro, besides singing like a bird in two languages, scats and leaves the heavy lifting to her able partner. The title track is also festooned with a smokin’ horn section and Fender Rhodes. Heartily Recommended.

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Mark CrissingerIf there’s any musical justice in North America, Canadian Mark Crissinger will be a star in 2017. “Night Light” is an impressive all-original self-released 10-track statement of love both lost and won plus the vagaries of fame and faith. After performing almost 1,600 shows since 1987, this esteemed roots and blues singer/songwriter/guitarist is on his fifth CD. If he ever comes south of the border with his one-man band show incorporating his fluid guitar runs and electronica looping on material such as his rockin’ “Poor Boy Blues,” the funky “Cedar Shuffle,” the rural back-porch Mississippi-at-Midnight ambiance of opener “Holding My Heart” and the down-but-not-out autobiographical “Defeated,” he is not to be missed. “Night Light,” unlike his gigs, is hardly solo. He’s joined here by two organs, two harmonicas, piano, bass, drums and two more guitars for a freewheeling party of pure entertainment.

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David Bowie Markus Klinko & IndraniListening to David Bowie in 2017 with a new ear after knowing what we now know is a whole ‘nother thing. Better. Spiritual. The two-disc Legacy (Columbia Legacy) is a treasure trove that flies in the face of the wisdom of not owning recycled material already in your collection. Somewhere between the sequencing and the duets—with Queen (“Under Pressure”), Pat Metheny Group (“This Is Not America”), Mick Jagger (“Dancing In The Street”) and Pet Shop Boys (“Hallo Spaceboy”)—you can’t help but be carried away. From the unreleased version of “Life On Mars” (written in response to Sinatra’s “My Way”) and “Starman” (which he wrote wanting to approximate the octave leap in “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”) to the “Lazarus” radio edit (from the musical he was working on when he died) and even well-worn material like “Golden Years” (inspired by 1963’s “On Broadway” by The Drifters) and “Let’s Dance,” which, besides being pure unadulterated 1983 nostalgia, was written with the Philadelphia soul sound in mind, the range of vision is astonishing. I totally forgot, for instance, that “Sorrow” was originally written in 1965 for the Rick Derringer McCoys of “Hang On Sloopy” fame. I bet Bowie never even heard the original when he covered a 1966 cover of that song by The Merseys on his 1973 Pin-Ups album. From 1969’s “Space Oddity” to 2016’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” these 40 hit singles cement a 48-year legacy that still sounds so damn good—timeless and vital—that this set now has to be thought of the ultimate Bowie package.

About Mike Greenblatt

A longtime music journalist, Mike Greenblatt is a contributing editor with Goldmine magazine.

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