Johnny Nicholas review…September 1, 2016…

JOHNNY NICHOLAS

FRESH AIR

MOONLIGHT TRAIN–KID MAN BLUES–BLUES TIME–RED LIGHT–SWEET KATRINA–PLAY ME (LIKE YOU PLAY YOUR GUITAR)–HOW DO YOU FOLLOW A BROKEN HEART–BAYOU BLUES–ROLL ON MISSISSIPPI–BACK DOOR MAN–WAKE UP BOBBY–WORKIN IN THE GARDEN–FRESH AIR

Johnny Nicholas, born in Rhode Island, is one of the finest blues/roots players on the scene today.  It’s a tough task to name someone Johnny HASN’T played with over his illustrious career as a harpman/vocalist/guitarist/composer, as he’s played with virtually every legend you can name.  He’s played with Howlin’ Wolf, Clapton, even Asleep At The Wheel.  That’s where we first heard him—waaay back in the day on a slab of Blind Pig vinyl entitled “Too Many Bad Habits.”  That title cut, about a man with a serious lack of self-control, has become one of our all-time favorites.

Fast-forward some four decades later, and Johnny’s still rockin,’ his latest set entitled “Fresh Air.”  There are eleven originals or collaborations with other writers and two covers herein.  Johnny had a desire to lay down these tracks for quite some time, to let his fans know that these were “the blues as I know it,” in all its various permutations.

Leading off is a pure shot of Delta, country-blues, as that “Moonlight Train took my baby away!”  His take on Sleepy John Estes’ “Kid Man Blues” has a lover begging him “don’t let my main man catch you here!”  The jump-blues tale of an uptight lover who keeps throwing up a “Red Light” features the venerable Cindy Cashdollar on the lap steel,  and button accordion from Steve Riley.

Johnny co-wrote two fine cuts with Gary Nicholson.  the first one has him asking a lover to “Play Me (Like You Play Your Guitar) and is set over a mid-tempo groove.  The other is a clever tune about a “night owl” who has no time for working or loving, “Wake Up Bobby,” with a definite New Orleans vibe throughout.

We had two favorites, too.  Brush-stroked drums and a sparse arrangement turn “How Do You Follow A Broken Heart” into a crooner’s delight, with Cindy again on guitar.  The set closes as it began, only this time, instead of taking his lover away, that train is taking Johnny to a better place, where he can get a breath of “Fresh Air.”  It is a peaceful, pastoral song that brings this collection full-circle.

It is always an event for us when Johnny Nicholas has a new album.  A talented multi-instrumentalist and engaging singer, his latest is truly a shot of “Fresh Air!”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

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