Donald Ray Johnson has been kicking around music for a lot of years. Originally a drummer who worked with Nat Dove and Phillip Walker, he became a Grammy Award-winning singer and recently traveled to France to record the R&B infused blues album, Bluesin’ Around.
The CD actually hit my desk towards the end of 2016 and even though I gave it a listen, liked it very much, and even played a song on Time For The Blues, just never got around to reviewing it.
I would like to correct that mistake.
Working with the Gas Blues Band – named for guitarist Gaspard “Gas” Ossiklan I believe rather than for some form of gastric distress, he has found a way to mix his swing approach and old school style R&B with some straight up blues. The result is a very good album that might not get as much publicity, but can definitely stand up to the best that 2016 had to offer.
Aside from Ossiklan, the band consists of “Little Peter” aka Pierre Cayla on lead and rhythm guitars; Philippe “Pompon” Scemama on bass; and “Papayan” better known as Yannick Urbani on drums. Guests include Daniel Antoine on Hammond Organ and other keyboards; Samuel Dumont on sax; and Nicolas Gardel on trumpet.
The album starts off with some nice swing on Bad Luck. Johnson blends his version of rhythm and blues with blues lyrics and creates a good sound. He’s in good voice and his band is already cooking. This should be a lot of fun.
Joe Louis Walker’s Bluesifyin’ is up next. The tempo slows down and the power in the song becomes more concentrated. This song is definitely on the dark side, but so good.
Johnson and Company follow up with Willie Dixon’s Ain’t Superstitious. We’ve already played this selection on Time For The Blues and liked it very much. It’s nice and funky and has a great groove. Highly recommended.
We are in serious blues territory on Ninety Proof. The music is stripped down to the barest of essentials and Johnson’s voice is strong and full of emotion. This is a great late night song that would surely touch the heart and soul of anyone listening.
The 57 seconds that comprise the entirety of She’s French follows the longest cut on the album. It’s a live cut, or at least has some crowd noise and is a nice instrumental sorbet. It took me longer to type this than it did to listen to the song…
With break time over, we’re back with the swinging Big Rear Window. It’s a lighthearted number with more than a few metaphors and several double entendres for your listening pleasure. Nothing too overt, it’s more fun than anything else.
Johnson and the band turn up the funk factor on Distant. It’s got a real ‘70’s sensibility with some of the music, but Johnson’s vocals are his usual strong R&B approach. A soaring guitar kicks off She’s Dressing Trashy, and the bassline drives the song. It’s a solid number that’s probably a lot of fun to catch live when the band can stretch it out a little more. It’s a crowd pleaser…
Watching You is the first song on the album written by Johnson himself. It’s got a good hook and the song is fun. It’s not necessarily the purest of blues songs, but it is a throwback to some of the horn driven numbers of earlier times.
The next cut, Should’ve Been Gone, is also written by Johnson. This one has some very cool funk going on. Both of these songs would have been right at home on later Stax recordings or some of the West Coast labels of the ‘70’s. That’s not a slight by any means, as they are great to listen to and evoke a different time.
The album concludes with Lucky Peterson’s You’re The One For Me. Johnson is a great interpreter of other artist’s work and here the keys and guitar combined with his vocals make this a good song on which to end.
If you’re a fan of R&B mixed in with your blues, and I certainly count myself in that company, this is an album that is perfect for you. Johnson rocks and swings as well as belts the blues and his band handles his approach with the greatest of ease.
If you want to check out more about Donald Ray Johnson – after all, he’s had a long and illustrious career, make sure to check out his website at http://www.donaldray.com/. There’s more music, his bio, and information about his whereabouts.