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Rockin' Johnny Band

Grim Reaper

(Delmark; US: 17 Apr 2012; UK: 28 May 2012)

Competent musicianship can't hide flaws.

The Rockin’ Johnny Band is something of a Chicago institution, having been gigging and recording since the mid-1990s. Ringleader Johnny Burgin plays guitar and sings, with solid support from John Sefner on bass and harmonica maestro Davin Erickson, among others. The songs are straight-up 12-bar blues, and if they are at times atmospheric, even creepy—“Grim Reaper,” “Window to Your Soul,” “My Baby’s a Good Un”—they are also weakened by Johnny’s vocal delivery. That delivery isn’t horrible, it’s just weaker than the instrumental elements on the record. Johnny’s voice is fairly thin and unmemorable, and with tunes like this, the vocals need to sell them just as much as the deft guitar playing and moody basslines. This is probably a band that sounds terrific in club, with the beer flowing and the acoustics less than perfect anyway. On record, though, it’s pretty much blues-by-the-numbers, and the shortcomings grow too pronounced to overlook. And oh my Lord, do we really need another rendition of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”? (Hint: no.)

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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