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Eric Johanson - The Deep And The Dirty
(Ruf Records, 2023)
A like-minded group of Southern artists has emerged from Louisiana, Texas, and Kansas City consisting of Tab Benoit, Samantha Fish, Jesse Dayton, and Eric Johanson. The New Orleanian Johanson recently appeared with Fish and Dayton at Fort Smith, Arkansas’ TempleLive in support of his sixth recording, The Deep And The Dirty. Dayton produced the recording, which addresses music beyond the blues found in his earlier recordings (Burn It Down (Whiskey Bayou Records, 2017); Blues in My Blood (NOLA Blue Records, 2019); Below Sea Level (NOLA Blue Records, 2020); and Live At DBA: New Orleans Bootleg (Self Released, 2022)) while remaining firmly planted in the tradition.
The era where rock was the predominant popular music ended economically in 2017 when electronic dance and hip hop, surpassed it as the most consumed musical genre in the United States. That being said, someone forgot to tell these troubadours, especially Johanson, because he is plowing new fields with that same old plow, and the results are refreshing, if not necessarily new.
Johanson’s new offering assembles a dozen original compositions, seven of which were co-written with producer Dayton. Johanson leads a power trio that includes bassist Eric Vogel and drummer Terence Higgins. On the opening “Don’t Hold Back” Johanson summons a dense Black Sabbath vibe with a fat, overdriven harmonic figure that rattles the ribcage. During Johanson’s solo, Vogel fills all available space as did Noel Redding for Jimi Hendrix. Higgin drums with a radioactive backbeat that is anything but routine. This is the performance theme that drives this release. The in-concert sound is even juicier than these studio sides. Vogel and Higgins are a driving rhythm section with Higgin producing impressive volume with a modest kit.
Johanson looks forward and backward at once. His backward sight focuses on the 1960s and ‘70s power trio: Cream, Blue Cheer, and Grand Funk Railroad with his fat guitar sound. The guitarist looks forward with a postmodern smile while deconstructing the blues as he does on “Beyond The Sky” where Johanson mashes up a piece of Muddy Water’s “Mannish Boy” with Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful.” The guitarist plays his first slide guitar song of the disc, recorded so thinly it sounds like an acoustic slide guitar over the electric, not unlike the Rolling Stones, circa 1968. “Undertow” is a heavy truck carrying stones, achieving a dangerous momentum, approaching derailment. The musical drama created is savory.
“Just Like New” features an acoustic slide guitar figure more folk music than blues, something pastoral. “Elysian Fields” takes an Exello-swamp figure, overdriving it to the point of tube combustion. The song simmers with menace and danger, coming from the center of Johanson’s humid Southern psyche. “Galaxy Girl” is the ‘70s updated to the twenty-first century with a Green Day sound without the punk. “Familiar Sound” returns Johanson to the acoustic slide guitar and produces a harmonic and rhythmic figure that directly recalls Tab Benoit. “Stepping Stone” updates Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” while “Borrowed Time” borrows from Sonny Landreth.
A useful exercise for the listener would be to hear Johanson’s Live at DBA: New Orleans Bootleg (Self Released, 2022). One can hear a stylistic turning from the more traditional mainstream blues to something supercharged, a sound made bigger and more virile. The Deep And The Dirty is a solid evolution in the direction of expanding blues-based rock at its edges.