4 CDs: YET MORE PROOF AMERICANA IS A SURGING GENRE

Scott Albert JohnsonThe image of singer/songwriter Scott Albert Johnson going down the road feeling bad is fairly apt if you listen to all nine songs on his sophomore release “Going Somewhere” (Monkaroo Music). He doesn’t exactly know where he’s going but, hey, as George Harrison says, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” He covers Peter Gabriel’s “I Don’t Remember” as  an irresistibly jaunty rocker. By the time he finishes with the pensive “Fragments,” he’s broken on through to the other side of understanding. We feel his pain yet there’s a quiet optimism at work. Maybe it’s from growing up in Mississippi with the blues all around him. He certainly manhandles his harmonica with a master’s flair. Maybe it’s the journey itself that harbors such meaning for him. Either way, Johnson is a triple-threat artist who can sing, write and blow his emotions clear on out of his harmonica like nobody’s business. You cannot pinpoint his genre either and that’s a good thing. KaiL_Baxley_credit_Kristina_LisaSouth Carolina singer/songwriter Kail Baxley has been on his own almost his whole life. Abandoned by his parents early on, he was raised by his grandfather who died when he was 12. Since then, he hasn’t lived in one place longer than a year. As a kid, he knew James Brown who used to challenge him to dance contests. Baxley lost every time. He had more success as a boxer but after becoming a Golden Gloves winner, he discovered the guitar and the guitar didn’t hurt. He also realized he had a knack for writing songs. In 2013, his “Heatstroke” and “The Wind and the War” were packaged together as a double-EP and people started paying attention. Now, with the release of “A Light That Never Dies” (Forty Below Records) and an ongoing tour, he’s ready to make his mark. The music cannot be categorized as he rocks and sings in a husky Bill Withers baritone but you can’t pigeonhole his sound. Co-produced by John Mayall producer Eric Corne with Baxley, it certainly isn’t pure country. It isn’t pure anything. And that’s its strength. Jennifer GreerThey say great art is born out of pain but in the case of Jennifer Greer, it’s almost unfathomable. For five years, she made music with her boyfriend/band member until she lost him and went nuts crying for 210 straight nights. During what must be the longest crying spell in history, she also wrote the songs that appear on her fourth album, the self-released “Hey Tide.” Her 10 compositions, augmented by her piano playing, are biting, emotional and resonate with the kind of drama usually reserved for Fiona Apple. Produced in Boston by Bonnie Raitt/Rosanne Cash producer Tom Dube with Tori Amos’s bass player Jon Evans and Fairport Convention’s drummer Dave Mattacks, “Hey Tide” should appeal to all heartbroken young girls everywhere. Joni Mitchell might have invented the pop confessional but Jennifer Greer has taken it to new heights. Royal Southern BrotherhoodNow THIS is a band! “Don’t Look Back: The Muscle Shoals Sessions” (Ruf Records) has legendary New Orleans percussionist, singer, songwriter, icon Cyrill Neville of The Neville Brothers taking his crew out for a bigtime joyride on this third chapter of Royal Southern Brotherhood. Recorded in the hallowed halls of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama where Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Little Richard and Wilson Pickett laid down the DNA of soul, “Don’t Look Back” features two new hotshot guitarists and Grammy-winner producer Tom Hambridge at the console…and, yes, Virginia, they up the funk. There’s a bit of DC go-go on “Big Greasy,” some auto-biography to pick up on during “Hell Or High Water” and the title track is a little bit country, complete with banjo. Neville Brother Ivan plays the Hammond B-3 organ, piano and clavinet. Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall sings and blows some blues harp. The first young gun guitarist, Bart Walker, doubles on mandolin and sings his ass off. Tyrone Vaughan, son of Fab T-Bird Jimmie and nephew to Stevie Ray, is an Austin Texas prodigy who’s been making a name for himself around town. Add bass, drums, saxophone and trumpet and you’ve got a 14-track all-original party. Just point me in the direction of any gig within 100 miles and I’m there.

About Mike Greenblatt

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

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