Raucous Voice but the Guitar Can Float
This has been an interesting CD to review. Though not one I find personally entirely congenial, it has considerable merits, and Johnny Moore’s guitar playing at times won me over. The notes, before concluding with a concise bit of sermonising—only a couple of paragraphs of fraternal existential pathos—report that this great blues guitarist now in his very prime was a disciple of the great Eddie Taylor. I might have noticed the kindred approach, a lovely way of going about things and the more valuable in Moore’s performance not only because he extends it—and he does that stunningly.
What’s crucial is the depth and sensitivity of musical taste, an independence of jazz and B.B. King influences, which all too often abuse what was once an added freedom by becoming plain mechanical. The thrill is indeed gone, as soon as the formerly evocative licks have been played against a steady beat the hundredth time. Taylor was independently modern; he had refined something interesting from his seniors and what he heard as a boy, but he’d created a style musically more difficult to develop (but worth the effort). When years ago I took a guitarist to hear Eddie Taylor perform as part of a touring package, she was singularly impressed not by technique but invention.
Taylor spent a lot of time supporting the one-time VeeJay star Jimmy Reed, and he shouldn’t remain unsung, let alone unrecognised. On one Elmore James date, he played an incredible guitar obbligato while James’s slide rested. His one album date on the European tour was dull, with the pianist unimaginative. But he’d had to play solo in concerts, after a career all in ensembles. A bass player could have been provided, surely, rather than the poor amateur who bored us all and has since vanished with presumably also the folding chair on which he put his portable electric drumming simulator. We could have had Floyd Jones, another minor master whose bass guitar on some tracks is a highlight of Vanguard’s Chicago, The Blues, Today set (now happily on CD).
Taylor’s few sides for the singles market are well worth knowing, but if only he’d had the chance of a jamming session like Johnny Moore has here!
This is an informal date, and the notes rightly refer to his club act, which was recorded live in situ and is on another Delmark CD. Moore does a bit of chat, referring to “the late Buster Bennet the late Shaky Jake ” Musicologists who point out that Robert Johnson had a wide repertoire well beyond the blues (pretty well all he was let record, though the raggy “Hot Nuts” is a surrealist classic!) might be academically gratified where I’m less enthusiastic here. Moore performs a lot of soul/R&B material of a character I find too thin musically—especially in a two guitars bass and drums group. Well, I’m told Johnny Moore likes that stuff, which matters in a different way from some preference of his local club audience. He’s not churning out anything just to please somebody else. He puts everything into it, and my real objection is that roaring out that repertoire seems to have done things to his voice. His singing’s for the most part functional, but when he’s souling it’s a raucous bawl. When he tries to be a blues singer—on, for instance, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man”—the wear, tear, and strain are obvious. There’s an occasional lack of precision suggesting his voice might lose more flexibility, and he might sometime lose the ability to sing at all. The singing in all its variableness is however part of the programme and mostly passable. On tracks averaging something over five minutes it’s far from the whole story.
I take my metaphorical tie off, unbutton, and hear him bellowing away as if he was doing it for relaxation, and then his fingers take over. There is no way he can’t be serious on the guitar, though as with another Delmark CD I currently have for review I find the opening couple of tracks the least congenial. Which still leaves an hour of doing this and that . Things like “Cut You Loose” were part of a pop-song repertoire without which Howlin’ Wolf’s later Chess discography would be much thinner. Supercharged songster stuff, really. This is an interesting track because when the bass player lays down something a robotic King imitator could charge over in sheer flat cliché, well, on comes Johnny Moore bending notes like the master he is. His take on Magic Sam’s “Lookin’ Good” should send any sane dancer rocking. “Crazy over You” is a curiosity, combining the delicacy of the guitar playing with the coarse cavern bellow. Up and down it goes, the title track and text on which the sleevenote sermon’s based is vocally sensitive and much more than an exercise in guitar technique. Buddy Guy at his best could do something like this, but among all his great gifts misses the final lyrical finesse. Nobody can do everything. “Matchbox Blues” is nearer the Guy bag, musically. Moore sings, then reminisces about events in a roadhouse (storytelling with music, narrative to dance to), solos on guitar, and sings again before playing out.
The guitar inflections on “Walkin’ the Streets” re-emphasise the more lyrical side in music closest of all here to Buddy Guy. The closing “Baby, Please Don’t Go” is well enough sung, with plenty more demonstration of the sort of ingenious harmonies my guitarist companion those years ago admired in Eddie Taylor. There’s even a slash of slide. This sort of music could go on all night long, which this CD may well do at quite a number of parties to come.