April 2001

Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson -  Talkin' About Soul
Telarc CD-83476
Released: 2001

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]What is it about the blues that, when played by one of the few remaining real blues men, sets one’s heart a-racing and one’s feet a-tapping? Maybe it’s the real feeling behind the songs of these men. They’ve lived the music they sing -- these tunes have become a part of who they are, and their emotions shine through like a sunrise after a big storm.

Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson is a genuine blues man. Born in 1939, in a small town deep in Mississippi, Johnson got his first taste of the blues on Beale Street in 1954 at the impressionable age of 15, when he heard the great Muddy Waters sing "Forty Days and Forty Nights." "That REALLY made an impression on me," Johnson recalls.

It wasn’t long thereafter that Johnson’s family moved to Chicago and Luther began gigging around town with various bands, finally ending up playing lead guitar in the Little Junior Robinson Blues Band. From there he was off and running. In the mid '60s he moved to "Magic Sam" Maghett’s band under the nickname of Black Junior. Later he joined what was arguably the best blues band extant, the Muddy Waters Blues Band, for most of the '70s. In the '80s Johnson stepped out on his own and moved to Boston, where he’s been ever since.

Talkin’ About Soul marks Johnson’s third effort for Telarc, and he’s as good now as he’s ever been. Johnson breaks no new stylistic ground with Talkin', but at age 62, why should he have to? What he does do, however, is pull all the facets of his career together in one fun-filled, toe-tappin’ package. He boogies, he moans, he laughs, he sings, and, most importantly, he plays the blues. This is the real thing, baby. It’s down-home and uptown blues all at once, 'cause Johnson’s been there/done that during his life. He can tell it like it is.

Johnson wrote six of the 13 songs here, so you know you’re going to get his vision of the blues. Starting right off with the title track, Johnson tells us "you got to have soul." Some of the other titles, such as "Crazy Over You," "Ramblin’ Blues," "No Worry No More," "Suffer So Hard With The Blues" and "I’m Gone," describe Johnson’s viewpoint of what the blues are to him. But at the same time, Talkin’ About Soul pays homage to those who helped mold and influence Johnson’s style. He covers Ray Charles’ "I’ve Got a Woman," the Isley Brothers’ "It’s Your Thing" and B.B. King’s "Crying Won’t Help You," among others.

And not only are the songs first-rate, so are the sonics. You get a soundstage that spreads from beyond your left speaker to beyond your right one. Each instrument is given its own acoustic space, and each sounds distinct enough to follow. My only complaint, if I really want to be picky, is that I wish this had been a DSD recording. I’ve found that they sound superior to regular digital recordings, and Talkin’ About Soul would have been the better for it.

But hey, why quibble over small details? This is one fine-sounding album, both musically and sonically. I enjoyed it, and I’m sure you will too. If you love the blues, and you love to hear everything that the musicians laid down on the disc, then you’ll love this recording. Telarc seems to be on a blues roll lately, and Luther Johnson’s Talkin’ About Soul easily qualifies for a high recommendation.