Thursday, June 4, 2015

CD: The Kentucky Headhunters with Johnnie Johnson - MEET ME IN BLUESLAND

MEET ME IN BLUESLAND (Alligator Records)
The Kentucky Headhunters with Johnnie Johnson

CD review by Preshias Harris for Country Music News International

This is the album that almost got lost forever. But thanks to Alligator Records we can finally hear this amazing project that puts one of America’s most original and underrated bands together with the man that Rolling Stone called “the greatest sideman in rock and roll history.”

Back in January 2003, pianist Johnnie Johnson was booked to record a piano track for a song to be included in “Soul,” an album being recorded by the Headhunters, but he almost didn’t make it. The previous evening, he’d been in Houston, joining the Rolling Stones onstage to play ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and only just managed to catch the plane to Kentucky.

The Headhunters had long admired Johnson whose piano playing can be heard on virtually all of Chuck Berry’s hit records. They got to meet him at a Grammy party in 1992 and formed an instant and lasting friendship. They later recorded an album together, “That’ll Work” (Nonesuch Records), and frequently appeared on stage together.

When they reunited in the studio in 2003, something magical happened, and they all found themselves jamming, improvising and creating music that went far beyond the confines of the original intention for “Soul.” They had created an amazing and completely original set of songs, but the label had all they needed for “Soul” and the eclectic Headhunter/Johnson tracks were put aside and all but forgotten. Until now.

Meet Me in Bluesland” presents arguably some of the best work the Headhunters have ever done. The band and Johnson create magic together, as if the piano virtuoso had been their keyboard player since the get-go.

Johnson and the Headhunters collaboratively wrote all of the tracks together with the exception of the Chuck Berry classic, “Little Queenie,” in which Johnson can finally play it the way HE wanted to!

The entire album has the feel of a non-stop jam session with everyone having a great time, never wanting it to end. This was to be the last time they recorded together as Johnson passed away in 2005. But we have this superb set that serves as a fitting memorial to Johnson and a showcase for the Headhunters, a driving mix of southern roots rock, blues and R&B.

There’s not a dud on the album, but standout tracks include “Stumblin’,” “Party in Heaven,” the hard-driving instrumental “Fast Train,” and the title track, “Meet Me in Bluesland.”

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