An essential Soul/Blues singer, Johnny Max is an integral part of a Golden Horseshoe music scene stretching from St. Catherines to Toronto. He should be making international waves soon in light of his latest superb release "A Lesson I’ve Learned".
It’s been 7 years since this reviewer first encountered Johnny with then partner-in-crime Kevin Higgins. Johnny has recently summoned forth a new aggregation lead by keyboardist extraordinaire Martin Aucoin and bravura guitarist Teddy Leonard. To their credit, they wasted no time heading toward the studio to lay down 13 tracks sanctified by boss songwriting, cool arrangements, and contagious grooves.
JM’s ebullient and boisterous voice is in fine fettle throughout as he whips up soulful helpings of Memphis stew of the Stax/Volt mode, with some noticeable New Orleans tidbits tastefully thrown in.
There’s good reason why Johnny’s original tunes have that polished feel to them. He’s been deeply immersed in Soul, R&B, Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll R&B since he was a young ‘un, and takes rightful pride in his comprehensive collection of vinyl. Folks in these parts respect Johnny’s tastes and his long-running Sunday Night Soul show is an automatic turn on.
"Down In History" announces the Max/Aucoin composing team is gonna be a source of ear-pleasing nutrients for years to come. It’s actually about the eternal battle of the sexes with an incredibly catchy "down-down-down" chorus refrain. His flock will also be singing along with "We’re Gonna Do It (All Night Long)", as much for its funky groove as those suggestive lyrics.
The title track is a knockout with its Sam and Dave-type vibe. Back in 1968, this type of song would have garnered tons of radio airplay. "Write Your Name" will tear at your heartstrings with Johnny’s wining ways with a deep soul ballad in full display. "Greezin" is a soulfully jazzy instrumental where Martin stretches out, and evokes fond memories of Booker T. & the MGs.
"Jack & Jill" is an adult nursery rhyme that bounces and swings like mad. I rank it with anything Louis Prima did in his prime. Everyone aged 3 to 80 will be prancing around the stage like Dancin’ With The Stars wannabes as soon as Johnny starts belting it out.
Toss in a couple of rock-solid covers like Don Covay’s "Have Mercy" and B.B. King’s "Why I Sing The Blues" and it’s apparent that Johnny has learned more than a lesson. He’s become the coolest teacher who makes every moment feel like recess.