The release of the Jay Willie Blues Band’s Johnny’s Juke Joint begs the question: just how many bands of competent musicians across the country exist in essentially the same space, performing the same material in the same manner for the same small crowds? To be sure, the members of guitarist Jay Willie’s band are all adept players who deliver perfectly respectable versions of these ten covers and two originals.
But while the instrumental sections are rightly highlighted as the strength of the group, the somewhat anemic vocals tend to drag down the performances, making them feel like little more than that of your average bar band on a good night. While Tod Willie’s voice is certainly suited to the material, the harder-edged, bluesier material tends to overshadow Malorie Leogrande’s more nuanced approach (see her excellent reading of “Upside of the Ground”) to singing. Throughout, it’s clear the talent is there and prominently on display, it’s simply that the finished product isn’t all that compelling.