If the absolute thrill of organic, crisp, satisfying blues rock and roll is enough to raise you from your winter slump, the opening few moments of Three Days On The Wagon from Neil Gregory Johnson’s EP will have you flying high in an instant. The music explodes into life, the rhythm and skill of the instrumentation is phenomenal, infectious and energizing. The sound is full – well crafted and well arranged in its entirety – then you get the grit and gravel of the artist’s impeccably soulful and heavy leading voice, which finishes things off beautifully; effectively sealing the deal before we even get around to the songwriting.
The great thing about this kind of music is that it feels familiar in essence, regardless of the melody or topic of the moment. With that though, there can be tendency to assume, and it’s often difficult for country or blues rock artist’s to differentiate themselves. In the case of this project, the songwriting shines with professional and memorable brightness, but it also comes through with a collection of fresh, modern day takes on life and living hard. I Want To Drink A Beer With You is a good example of both sides of the spectrum – the song and its subject matter feel instantly familiar, though as you delve into the details, as the soundscape builds – which it does, and beautifully so – there are snippets of both the now and the yesteryear, and this paints a nostalgic picture in a distinctly new way.
Loving And Leaving breaks things down to the bare essentials – a man and his guitar, quietly reflecting on life and decisions that were made. At this point in the collection, the song arrives as something of a freestyle or diary entry. As hoped, the soundscape builds again, and the increasing intensity in the leading voice is superb – as is the song’s hook. Quite unexpectedly, this piece erupts into something hugely emotional and captivating, not to mention stylish. There’s a certain meeting of confidence and vulnerability here that makes for quite a striking performance.
The rhythm and boldness of the opener returns with the song Losers Weep. This song has a cool and chaotic ambiance about it that feels like a fast moving train or the heart of a horse race with big money at stake. The verses have swagger, short lines repeat and are reinforced by a constantly changing instrumental pulse. The story-line reflects again, the realness and honesty of these songs is never questionable. Afterwards you get the simple warmth and joy of a classic country-rock aura, complete with nostalgic story-telling and a simple, easy to remember melody. There are several snippets of harmonica that show themselves intermittently and these really help highlight that organic, live sound that is so often missing from mainstream music.
Things come to a delicately thoughtful close with Well Kept. As if you weren’t aware of how stunning Neil Gregory Johnson’s voice really was by now, this final few minutes allows both the softness and the power to shine brightly under equally mesmerising spotlights. The loving concept at the heart of the song lets things mellow out smoothly before finishing up for good. The songs throughout this EP have been gorgeously well captured. Everything is masterfully presented and finished, but in among that you also get numerous moments at which the authenticity of the expression really stands tall. Certain vocal inflections, certain solo flickers, certain words – it feels like wholesome, meaningful music, and that makes it a total pleasure to have play for you. A stunning collection, a definite must for fans of the genre and all of its sub-categories. Great energy, great talent, great times. A live show is a must.