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Stevie J - The Diversity Project (2 CDs)

Self Release

Blues CD: 9 songs; 41:10 minutes

Soul CD: 8 songs; 34:17 minutes

Styles: Modern Electric Blues; Southern Soul

For a reviewer, writing a short article about a great CD is often difficult. Writing a short article about TWO great CD’s is darn near impossible! “The Diversity Project,” released by 2011 IBC double finalist Stevie J, is a collection of two separate albums recorded during the same period of time. The first one, “Standin’ at the Station,” was inspired by Stevie’s first appearance on a legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise playing with Mel Waiter’s Band. The second one, “Soul Sessions,” represents a compilation of his work in Mississippi as a Southern Soul artist. Some may raise a skeptical eyebrow, but they shouldn’t. Especially on “...Station,” Stevie J proves that he is the real thing -- a “born again bluesman,” as he characterizes himself in one of that album’s tracks.

Born Stephen Johnson, this near life-long resident of Jackson MS is well known to fans who attended February 2011’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Stevie J was a finalist in two categories: Best Band and Best Self-Produced CD. The performing 10 finalist bands included Stevie J & The Blues Eruption, and the top 5 CDs included “The Diversity Project.” (See photos and coverage in the Feb 17 issue of Blues Blast magazine).

Stevie J is a music lover across Blues, Funk, Soul, Gospel, Hip-Hop, and “everything else.”His two CDs provide eleven original songs and six covers from artists as “diverse” as John Mayer to Luther Allison to George Clinton.

The best songs on “Standin’ at the Station” are not only vibrant, but they also showcase Stevie J’s musicianship in a way one won’t easily forget. In “Born Again Bluesman,” he reveals that he is “the son of a sanctified preacher.” However, an addictive hand-jive beat and lively licks on lead guitar are what sanctify this song as blues gold. This CD’s title track is a proud runner-up. In third place comes the most insidious earworm of the bunch: “Play the Blues Son.” Its refrain shows that blues lyrics don’t have to be complex to be enjoyable. I found myself trying to get this song out of my head -- to no avail!

“Soul Sessions,” the second selection in this set, is just as listenable -- if not as palatable to blues purists. It includes covers of John Mayer’s “Gravity” and George Clinton’s “Cosmic Slop” that truly do the original artists justice. Something strange (and wonderful) is revealed on this album: Stevie J’s vocals are better by leaps and bounds. It’s hard to tell what’s better: his voice here, or his guitar playing on “Station”! Let’s call it a draw. The only flaw with his lyrical delivery is that the words run by too quickly for reviewers to quote his songs! Slow it down a bit, Stevie J, or include the lyrics and do us proud.

By definition, “diversity” implies a wide variety of things or people that are being considered. To those who would comment that “The Diversity Project” is too hodgepodge and unfocused, this reviewer offers a counterpoint: Without the smorgasbord of Stevie J’s songs and musical styles here, his “Project’s” title would be unwarranted. In short, two great CD’s in one set is a fantastic package! .

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 31 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of the 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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