The Johnny Max Band recently came out with their third great CD Ride and Roll. It’s one of those rare musical finds that can grab the listener right off the bat, due to its intense energy and captivating delivery. This is in part due to Johnny Max himself. His vocals are rousing and filled with determination. The Johnny Max Band knows well how to entertain and get the soul rollin’ ‘n’ rockin’. They also know how to keep the listener in that higher emotional state.
The Johnny Max Band consists of Johnny Max on lead vocals; Kevin Higgins on lead/slide guitar; Uli Bohnet on all basses; Duncan McBain on drums; Martin Aucoin on piano, organ and backing vocals; along with Alec Fraser on backing vocals and ‘canneryisms’ (whatever that is). Fraser produced and recorded this fine blues CD at his award-winning Liquid Toronto recording studio.
The first tune on this explosively enjoyable CD is "(Baby) Please Don’t Go." This is one of the best upbeat party tunes around. It’s one of those rare songs that can get you going anytime of the day or night. The title tune, "Ride and Roll" is one of the rockinest rockabilly tunes around. It’s followed by "Angel of Mercy" - a deep, jazz influenced slow blues, that can touch the soul and emotions. Max’s vocals reflect suffering in their intensity, and are reinforced by Higgins’ hauntingly melodic guitar soloing. "Walkin’ In Jerusalem" features Higgins’ bluesy slide solo, leading into Max’s soulful vocals, ending in more of Higgins captivating slide guitar that seems to speak the lyrics. This is followed by "Long Gone Train", which possesses long gone soul from a long gone time.
The pace picks up considerably with "Mad At Me." This is a rockin’ and rollin’ dance tune that’s upbeat all the way! Max’s vocals and Higgins’ guitar solo are energizing, as are McBain’s drumming and Aucoin’s piano solo. They’re well supported by Bohnet’s steady, rollin’ bass backbeat and the whole rhythm section echoing back "She’s mad at me" to Max’s lead vocals, in perfect call and response fashion.
Just when you think you’ve heard all the blues you need for your musical dollar, along comes the mesmerizing "Shake ‘Em All Down." Higgins’ heavy, slow guitar rhythm and ‘honeybee’-style slide playing helps Max’s intoxicating vocals hit the bluesy bullseye. This song is absolutely superb and faultless. Its hard driving intensity is added to with McBain’s consistent, steady drumming.
Aucoin’s B-3 riffs are the soulful intro to "Mimico Bus." This is an easy feat for Aucoin’s who’s spent many happy years in soul/R&B band The Lincolns, featuring renowned bassist Prakash John, (ex-Alice Cooper/Lou Reed;currently in Blues Angels). Max’s vocals are upbeat all the way in this fast-paced soul excursion.
The classic "Junko Partner" slows things down, Louisiana bayou style. In this rendition Max’s vocals seem to be from a bygone era that’s happily come back. The arrangement is faithful to versions recorded decades ago, yet still retains Max’s own distinct way of putting a song across. The atmosphere in this tune exudes images of snapping gators and crawfish cookin’ over an open fire. Higgins’ mouthwatering slide playing reinforces this imagery, along with more of McBain’s invigorating drumming and Bohnet’s bass lines.
"I Like Women" is an upbeat, soul/R&B tune, which holds a surprise for the listener part way through. Although supposedly the finale to this great CD, three minutes into it, "Women" fades into a slow, hand-clapping vocal solo by Max. He sings some gospel-influenced ‘church blues’ at this point, sounding much like an old southern blues man on his porch in the U.S. deep south, singing out his soul to ‘beat the devil’. On another level, this captivating, early gospel-influenced blues style explains why Max is so good at what he does best - being a blues singer. In this finale, he’s able to go back to the original blues sung by the blacks toiling away on the plantations with no end in sight - just more hard work and singin’ away dem ol’ blues.
Johnny Max’s vocal solo finale on Ride and Roll, sounds much like the originators might have sung it a century ago or more ago. Max comes across this way in his vocal delivery, because he’s in tune with the real blues, and knows how to express it well! Not to mention his talent at being able to pick an impeccable rhythm section of pros who really know their stuff and have paid their dues. This is the reason why the Johnny Max Band’s latest CD, Ride and Roll, is a must-listen-to and must-have to own and enjoy. The Johnny Max Band is also a must-see wherever they perform live! As the late great Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell once sang, "There ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby" and baby this is it!