Big Jack Johnson with Kim Wilson – The Memphis Barbecue Sessions
Big Jack goes back even further to his roots with a mostly acoustic outing, which also features fellow M.C. Records artist and 2001 & 2003 Grammy nominee Kim Wilson on harmonica. The Memphis Barbecue Sessions also features legendary blues pianist Pinetop Perkins on two tracks. The Memphis Barbecue Sessions is a tasty mix of Johnson originals and interpretations of some of his blues favorites from Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter and Elmore James.
1. Oh Baby - 4:08 2. Humming Blues - 4:01 3. Don't Care Nothing - 3:34 4. Smokestack Lighting - 4:09 5. I'm Going Out Walking - 4:17 6. My Babe - 4:13 7. Blue Bird - 5:56 8. Lonesome Road - 4:18 9. Get Along Little Cindy - 4:21 10. Humming Bird - 5:15 11. Big Boss Man - 4:08 12. Things I Used to Do - 4:29 13. Dust My Broom - 3:33
Big Jack Johnson (vocals, mandolin, acoustic & electric guitars) , Kim Wilson (harmonica, guitar and vocal on 5) , Pinetop Perkins ((piano on 2,8) , Mark Carpentieri (drums on 2,8,13)
1. AllMusic - Chris Nickson
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.
Artist Biography - Bill Dahl
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 musically. His dad was a local musician playing both blues and country ditties at local functions; by the time he was 13 years old, Johnson was sitting in on guitar with his dad's band. At age 18, Johnson was following B.B. King's electrified lead. His big break came when he sat in with bluesmen Frank Frost and Sam Carr at the Savoy Theater in Clarksdale. The symmetry among the trio members was such that they were seldom apart for the next 15 years, recording for Philips International and Jewel with Frost, the bandleader.
Chicago blues aficionado Michael Frank was so mesmerized by the trio's intensity when he heard them playing in 1975 at Johnson's Mississippi bar, the Black Fox, that Frank Frost eventually formed Earwig just to capture their steamy repertoire. The resulting album, Rockin' the Juke Joint Down, came out in 1979 (as by the Jelly Roll Kings) and marked Johnson's first recordings as a singer. Johnson's subsequent 1987 album for Earwig, The Oil Man, still ranks as one of his most intense and moving, sporting a hair-raising rendition of "Catfish Blues."
The '90s were good to Johnson. In addition to Daddy, When Is Mama Comin' Home, he released a live record and two studio albums -- 1996's We Got to Stop This Killin' and 1998's All the Way Back. He also appeared in the acclaimed film documentary Deep Blues and on its resulting soundtrack, returning in 2000 with Roots Stew. The new millennium saw Johnson continuing as an active performer and recording artist, collaborating with Kim Wilson on 2002's The Memphis Barbecue Sessions and releasing Katrina, his "tribute to the land, people, and spirit of Mississippi," in 2009. Sadly, Big Jack Johnson was in ill health as the decade drew to a close and the 2010s began, and he died at age 70 in a Memphis hospital on March 14, 2011.
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