Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Edgar Winter - Brother Johnny

Brother Johnny is a whopper of a tribute album to his sibling from Edgar Winter.  You get 17 tracks for your spondoolicks, running to 76 minutes – a double album, in old money - and with a stellar cast of guests into the bargain.  But while much of the material is well known for having been recorded by Johnny Winter, and most of those big-name guests are guitar hotshots like Johnny, it’s worth underlining that it’s very much Edgar Winter who is the glue holding Brother Johnny together.
Edgar’s snarling vocal grabs the attention on the opening ‘Mean Town Blues’ just as much as the turbo-charged riffing, or the wicked slide solo that Joe Bonamassa whacks out over a Diddley-esque rhythmic passage.  It’s a meaty, high-energy blast of blues-rock, first recorded by Johnny in 1968, with a vibe that makes me wonder how much he may have influenced fellow Texans ZZ Top.
Edgar Winter - blowing life into the tribute to his brother Johnny
Speaking of whom, Billy Gibbons turns up to provide vocals and a solo on ‘I’m Yours And I’m Hers’, while Derek Trucks is also on hand to add a gutsy slide excursion over the driving rhythm section.  As for the aforementioned Bonamassa, he sounds completely at home on ‘Self Destructive Blues’, letting rip again both vocally and on guitar as it’s powered along by some hyperactive bass and drums from Sean Hurley and Greg Bisonette.
This is core Johnny Winter territory, and there are some other crunking examples on ‘Rock’n’Roll Hoochie Koo’, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’.  It’s maybe a shame that Rick Derringer, who wrote it, doesn’t report for guitar duty on the first of these.  But it’s still a raunchy old thing with its distinctive descending riff, Steve Lukather giving it some welly on the solo, and Bon Jovi guitarist Phil X adding some extra zing via high-flying backing vocals.  Edgar’s roared “Yeah!” at the start of ‘ . . . Jack Flash’ is a statement of intent, heralding pounding, all-action drums, ringing rhythm guitar from Waddy Wachtel, and some helter-skelter soloing from Phil X.  All in all, it lives up to the riotous energy of that famous rendition by Johnny Winter on the Old Grey Whistle Test.  And ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ is rattling, Bob Dylan rock’n’roll, right down to the slide whistle whoops, with thumping piano and a suitably edgy vocal from Edgar, plus wailing lead guitar from Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
There’s more of this kind of thing, not least with the barely contained raw energy of ‘Guess I’ll Go Away’, which features the late lamented Taylor Hawkins supplying lead and backing vocals, and Dave Rappaport cranking out the rising-and-tumbling guitar riff and a careening solo.  But the album is leavened by some different stuff.  There’s the acoustic ‘Lone Star Blues’, an up-to-date Edgar composition on which he duets with Keb’ Mo’ for some loose and easy storytelling.  There’s ‘Stranger’, which brings together the freaky combination of Ringo Starr on drums and Joe Walsh on lead guitar, and Michael McDonald delivering a soulful vocal that’s both weary and silky. And there’s the Ray Charles ballad ‘Drown In My Own Tears’, with Edgar showing a softer vocal side against the backdrop of horns.
Does the world really need another take on ‘Johnny B. Goode’, even if it was a Johnny Winter staple?  No harm I suppose, and at least Edgar puts his own stamp on it with his rockin’ piano and muscular sax, plus a swathe of beer-drinkin’, barroom vocals.  At the other end of the spectrum is the closing ‘End Of The Line’, an elegiac Edgar Winter original backed by piano and strings.  Its sentiments may make it an understandable choice as a final salute, but its Great American Songbook stylings don’t make for the best fit.
There are tribute albums aplenty these days.  How many of them have any longevity with their audience, and how many end up as merely ephemeral celebrations of their subject?  Answers on a postcard, please.  But one thing that Brother Johnny has going for it, I reckon, is the personal commitment that Edgar Winter has invested, as curator, performer and producer.  This ain’t your ordinary, everyday tribute album - it’s a brother-to-brother thing.

Brother Johnny is released on 15 April by Quarto Valley Records, and is available digitally here.

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