Throwing haymaker-style harmonies at us in “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” Kicking out a Texas-sized groove alongside Watermelon Slim in “Life of Sorrow.” Breaking out the cool acoustic melodies for “Me, The Blues, and Jack.” Killing melancholy one note at a time in “Erase the Pages.” If there’s one thing that Johnny Riley is intent on accomplishing in his new album Live At the Bluesberry Café, it’s preserving the aesthetical integrity of the blues as it was always meant to be kept – pure and unadorned with bells and whistles.
There aren’t any synthetic elements to “Holler” part one or two, nor are there any examples of bombast for me to point out in “Change,” “Southern Born (Remix),” “There’s a Man Goin’ Round” or “She Don’t Call Me Baby Anymore.” This is Texas blues with a virginally anti-commercial twist, and although there haven’t a been a lot of great releases in this genre to make it into the press these last few years, this record from Johnny Riley is definitely worthy of the buzz. If there’s one blue-hued LP you need to hear in 2020, I’d say it’s this one.
Tone is everything in the vocal “Holler,” “Ain’t That a Shame (But That’s The Blues),” “Death Comes Creeping” and “Johnny’s Boogie,” and I would say that it shapes the mood of the music as much as any of the melodies ever could on their own. It’s obvious to me that all of the instrumentation in this record – from the strings to the harmonica parts, percussive pulsations and Americana-stained vocal melodies – is real, natural and not being cherry-picked from software samples, which is a far cry from the few crossover blues works I’ve had the opportunity to hear out of the mainstream market lately. There’s a lot of heavy swing presented to us in both the drums and the physical continuity of the band as a whole, which allows for “There’s a Man Goin’ Round” and “Life of Sorrow” to hit us with even more of a punch than they were already sporting. There’s amazing chemistry between all of the players here, but never any doubt as to who the true star of the show is; from the moment we press play forward, Riley’s voice is the most rousing component of any beat here.
Those who appreciate Texas blues will definitely find Johnny Riley’s Live At the Bluesberry Café to be one of the more intriguing records of its kind to hit record store shelves in 2020 thus far, and it would surprise me a lot if I were the only listener walking away with this opinion. This singer/songwriter’s energy is off the charts infectious around every twist and turn the tracklist throws in his direction, and given this was taken from a live recording, it’s got to make you wonder just how much he could get done if given some proper studio time to expand upon the themes here. He’s won my attention, and I’d say his new album is worth yours this summer for sure.