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Juke Joint Jonny – Pure And Simple
12 tracks: 46:37
Make no mistake about it. The little blurb “File Under Blues” on the back of the CD cover of Juke Joint Jonny’s release Pure And Simple indicates that’s exactly where this work should be filed under. No signs of blues rock here and for the purists at heart; this is a peaceful sanctuary where they can hide.
Dedicated to the memory of his father John P. Rizzo, Jonny turns in a collection of mostly original songs whose heritage lies deeply in authentic blues, blending juke joint dust, barroom ethos and shotgun shack boogie.
Vocally Jonny’s a mix of John Hiatt and John Hammond. It’s those kinds of vocals that are the perfect marriage to his twelve and six string guitar playing that echoes of Robert Johnson and Leadbelly.
He relies on the simple backing of drummer Mike Stevens and Stand-Up Bassist Ben Bernstein. Other friends show up to fill out the sound and the results showcase a music coming out of the backwoods. It’s as if you dug up a time capsule out of the 19th century.
A gin and whiskey haze hangs over opening track “Come On Up” and Jonny’s singing is giddy enough to make you refill your shot glass over and over again. That fun spirit is kept up going into second cut “Joline” which features Mitch Woods on piano filtering the spirit of Dr. John. The New Orleans vibe is so strong that this song alone would go down like gangbusters at Jazz Fest.
The Jus Harp of Mike Stevens is just right for “Going To Mississippi” and along with Jonny’s guitar playing, we are taken for that top-down cruise on Highway 61 that runs smack into the Delta.
Eventually the ride stops at the nearest juke joint and Steve Lucky’s piano playing on Moma Lion is the antidote to jump-starting “Moma Lion” into a Radiator/Little Feat house-rockin boogie with hot tenor saxophone playing by Ken “Snakebite” Jacobs. It’s these subtle little twists that make the music endearing. With having a strong musical endorsement from various guests keeps the music afloat and staying strongly on course as it gobbles blues nuggets along the way.
Harpist Sandy Mack and guitarist Albert Castiglia stop in and lend a hand to “That’s Allright” boosting Jonny’s sandpaper vocals above an acoustic mix of gutbucket rhythm. And who said you can’t sneak in a little John Lee Hooker? Jonny’s “Dry Well Blues” may sound like a rewrite of “Boogie Chillun” but the notes and chords are his own and he isn’t out to pillage old graves.
He also wants to strike a somber moment. And “Unlucky In Love” is a good enough song as any to become a temporary alcoholic as a way of getting over a recent lost love. You want this moment to end soon and it does and instrumental “Edgewood” with its horn section rambles in a funky way casting a brighter light.
And you can’t underestimate Jonny’s guitar playing. His mastery of acoustic guitar comes to a head in the fast and furious “Alameda Tickle” which features Jonny’s best Piedmont playing style.
It’s the John Lee Hooker boogie where he shines and “Juke Joint Boogie” lives up to its moniker with the rhythm section kicking up a storm and getting them shoes shuffling. And the shuffling just continues in “Going Down To Main Street” with Castiglia and Mack turning up once again to make the street corner come alive as boogie fever continues to rule the roost.
The introspective “Changes” wraps it up with a neat little bow. Juke Joint Jonny has every right to sit at the table with other contemporaries John Hammond, Rory Block, Mary Flower and Paul Geremia. Consider this artist as another key to unlocking a chest of true American roots music.
Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.