Thursday, August 9, 2018

Jeremiah Johnson: “Straitjacket” (2018) CD Review

Jeremiah Johnson is a singer, guitarist and songwriter working mainly in the blues realm, but with some serious rock in his blood and a bit of country in his soul. He is based in St. Louis, Missouri, a city steeped in the blues, though also known for its country and jazz music. His new album, Straitjacket, features mostly original material, music that will get you on your feet. The band is made up of Frank Bauer on saxophone and backing vocals, Tom Maloney on bass, Benet Schaeffer on drums, and Mike Zito on rhythm guitar. Zito also produced the album.

The album opens with its title track, “Straitjacket,” which is blues rock with a funky edge. It’s party blues, you know? I love that bass line. The song becomes a fun jam, with a lot of cool stuff on lead guitar. And then that horn, oh yes! There are a lot of folks in this country that should be fitted with straitjackets, but no one who makes music this fun should be counted among their number. That’s followed by “Getting Tired,” a tune with a strong blues groove, and with more cool work on horn. “I’m getting tired of getting old/Yeah, it’s getting old feeling tired.” Yup, that sounds just exactly right. Well, folks, we all need to “keep on keeping on,” no matter how difficult it might be at times. We’re all getting tired, we’re all getting older. But this song is working perfectly to lift my spirits and provide encouragement, and I especially love when that sax sings. Then “Blues In Her Eyes” is a somewhat mellower song, but with more groovy work on saxophone. Things get jumping with “Keep On Sailing,” with a bit of a country swing to its vibe, and a rockin’ energy moving through it. “Never thought I’d feel so lonely/Leader of the pack, I’m king of the fools/Never thought I’d feel so broken.” Need I even say that this track features some cool work on saxophone?

I got a little nervous at the beginning of “Believe In America,” as it starts with this bit of spoken word: “Now I’m not trying to make a political statement or nothing/I just really love my country/And I think you do too.” It’s tough, because as soon as someone mentions a love for the USA, I feel myself tightening up, worried that the person will say something in favor of the Republican Party. That is especially true these days, when that mendacious, incestuous puppet is pretending to lead. But of course, those of us who want Trump gone from the Earth do so for the very reason that we care about this country (and about the planet). This song is about those who are struggling (most of the people I know fit in that category), but there is still faith in the dream that is at the heart of the nation, and somehow that hasn’t been completely extinguished by their personal struggles, or by the current corrupt and authoritarian administration. Believe in this country in spite of the demented, self-obsessed racists currently in power. The groove changes partway through the song, and there is some really nice work on guitar, as well as a good drum beat. There is more delicious guitar work in “King & Queen,” over that classic blues rhythm. Hey, a blues song about chess (well, in part, anyway)!

“Dirty Mind” is one of my favorite tracks. In this one, Jeremiah Johnson sings, “Hope to see you soon/And I don’t care what you’ve been doing/Because I’ve always got the time for your dirty mind.” I need to play this one for my girlfriend; she’s going to appreciate it. This one is a good ride, to be sure. It is catchy at times, and also rocks, particularly at the end. The band is having fun with it. And, hey, there is more nice work on sax. Another of my personal favorites is “Bonneville Shuffle,” the disc’s only instrumental track. I absolutely love this classic mean groove, and of course the saxophone. It’s a tune that makes you feel cool just for having listened to it. Everything about this tune makes me happy, and makes me think that the world is a damn good place, full of joy and sex and dancing. It’s followed by “Hold My Hand,” which has a very different feel at the start, a mellower, sweeter vibe. And I love the way Jeremiah Johnson delivers the line “Felt like everything’s gonna be all right.” His delivery is so direct and true, that I feel things are going to be all right. The album then concludes with its only cover, “Rock & Roll Music To The World,” the Ten Years After song, written by Alvin Lee. “Give peace a chance/Get up and dance.”

CD Track List
  1. Straitjacket
  2. Getting Tired
  3. Blues In Her Eyes
  4. Keep On Sailing
  5. Believe In America
  6. King & Queen
  7. Dirty Mind
  8. 9th And Russell
  9. Old School
  10. Bonneville Shuffle
  11. Hold My Hand
  12. Rock & Roll Music To The World
Straitjacket is scheduled to be released on August 24, 2018 on Ruf Records.

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