Friday, January 16, 2009

Johnny Winter - Second Winter

After my re-discovery of Johnny via his debut album, this was high on my want list and I was lucky enough to get this for Xmas (thanks, Melanie!). This was originally released as a 3 sided LP (side 4 was blank, which I’m certain confused many stoners who were listening!) and this collection has the entire record as well as a couple of bonus tracks and a 2nd CD of fantastic live material!

While still heavily blues-oriented, this release provided some more variety than the terrific debut record. But, Winter starts out with a version of “Serves You Right To Suffer” that is credited to “P. Mayfield” (I admit my ignorance – I’m not sure who that is) and re-titled "Memory Pain" which is definitely a rocked-up blues number. This sounds stylistically like one of Hendrix’s blues updates and Johnny’s playing is stunning throughout.

A JW original, “I’m Not Sure”, follows and it is a little more experimental, with Johnny playing an electric mandolin accompanied by brother Edgar on keys (harpsichord, I believe), making an extremely unusual and unique, chime-y sound. Very different and very cool.

Truly heavy and rockin’ is “The Good Love”, with the guitar’s distortion turned up and the wah-wah clicked on and again – to me – sounding a little Hendrix-y. Of course, he is my main touchstone for heavy blues, so take that with as much salt as you like! Winter definitely is his own man, though, and this sounds more like him than anyone else! Bassist Tommy Shannon is outstanding here and “Uncle” John Turner is rock solid!

Edgar is highlighted on piano and sax on a great, traditional sounding “Slipping and Sliding”, which gives Little Richard a run for his money! It is unmistakably Johnny when he jumps in on slide guitar though! Speaking of Richard, his churning, walking blues, “Miss Ann” is again augmented with Edgar’s expertise and his two main instruments. Keeping with the 50’s feel, there is a super-charged take on “Johnny B. Goode”, as well, that is right on the money!

As they leave the nostalgia behind, the band tears through Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” with Winter’s slide guitar taking front & center and giving a command performance! If anyone ever made up a compilation of the best and most original Dylan covers, this would certainly be in the top ten! Excellent!

Back to more traditional slide blues with the original “I Love Everybody”, a somewhat slower (though by no means dirge-y) example of his prowess. Returning to hi-energy blues in “Hustled Down in Texas”, with Winter updating his sound with wah-wah and a rollickin’ beat. Funnily enough, the second song after “I Love Everybody” is “I Hate Everybody”! You can’t say that the man didn’t have a sense of humor! This is presented as an updated jump-jive-blues, complete with horn section and organ! “Fast Life Rider” is a quality riff-rocker sets to a martial beat, letting Johnny show off with his wah-wah again!

The bonus tracks on this first CD include “Early In the Morning”, an organ-fueled upbeat blues and an instrumental cover of Ray Charles’ “Tell the Truth”, given a groovy, Booker T-ish feel.

There is a bonus CD included with an amazing live show from the Royal Albert Hall recorded in 1970 with Johnny’s band augmented by Edgar. The set starts out with the mid-tempo blues of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me”, setting the stage for the set with JW’s excellent playing and the band showing off their tightness and dynamic work.

Their take on “Johnny B. Goode” is even wilder than the studio version and Edgar is missing from this one – apparently he came on stage later as a guest, as opposed to sitting in for the entire set. There’s an insanely jumpin’ blues with “Mama Talk to your Daughter” with Winter’s guitar playing absolutely blistering and the group locks in perfectly with him and accents his solos with amazing power! Truly breath-taking!

They slow it down for B.B.King’s churning “It’s My Own Fault”, making it a tour de force for Johnny. “Black Cat Bone” gets them rockin’ again with a fast and furious slide monster which then leads into “Mean Town Blues” which is even more insistently bouncing, with Johnny and Shannon working together in unison before Shannon drops out and lets Johnny cut loose with a simple drum beat behind him. He manages to keep a full sound even in this minimalist setting. Eventually, the guys smash back in and bash away until Johnny ends it with some of his patented riffs.

Edgar then joins in for his wild rendition of “Tobacco Road”, which was made famous on his White Trash live album. I think that this is slightly shorter and a little less excessive than that version but it is still heavily rockin’ with plenty of work with band dynamics. It does include Edgar’s vocal/keyboard “duel” with himself, though!

The earliest known take of Edgar’s smash hit, “Frankenstein”, makes an appearance here and while the basics are here, of course it is different from the later cut, which included a synthesizer solo and other guitar parts. This does still feature Edgar on a second set of drums though for the percussion break!

Closing with a vocal rendition of “Tell the Truth”, this has a completely different feel than the studio one, even though Edgar still contributes some organ and a sax solo. Johnny is outstanding here, as well.

So, all in all, another superb addition to the collection of any lover of r’n’r-infused blues played by virtuoso musicians!