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.