Sunday, October 16, 2022

Jeremiah Johnson - Hi-Fi Drive By

Right from the start, there’s a confidence about Hi-Fi Drive By that says you’re in good company, that there’s an experienced pair of hands at the wheel, and you can sit back and enjoy the ride.  The opening ‘’68 Coupe De Ville’ is a horn-tooting, piano-pounding (with Victor Wainwright guesting on the ivories) slice of rock’n’roll à la John Hiatt’s ‘Tennesse Plates’.  It rattles along with brio, and a comic turn to the lyrics, while Emily Wallace backs up Jeremiah Johnson’s lead vocal in fine, singalong-inducing style.
There’s a satisfying smorgasbord of roots sounds on offer here. ‘Ball And Chain’ is a loose-
Jeremiah Johnson - "Yes Officer, I know I should be wearing a seat belt."
limbed “can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em” affair in a Seger-ish vein, rocking along in soulful fashion with tasty horn-riffing and a laid back guitar solo from Johnson.  ‘Hot Diggity Dog’ is a funky little slice of Delbert McClinton-like narrative fun, with a laconically drawled vocal and some piercing wah-wah guitar.  And ‘Hot Blooded Love’ has a sultry vibe, with hints of Latin in the rhythm, horns that are more Tijuana than Memphis, and the twinkling tone of Tom Maloney’s guitar fills, paving the way for Johnson’s more biting solo.
‘Skippin’ School’ is a jazzy blues recalling BB King, with its smooth horns and pinpoint guitar work, plus cool piano from the multi-tasking Maloney.  The BB reference prompts the thought that Johnson’s voice might benefit from an ounce or two of more heft.  But his strength is a conversational air that draws you in and pitches some ear-catching, cliché-free lyrics perfectly.  ‘The Squeeze’ is a slow-ish but assertive blues, laying out a clever metaphor for the trials and tribulations of love with the line “I’m beginning to wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze.  Meanwhile ‘Sweet Misery’ is a strolling bad luck blues, with Johnson complaining that “You took all the eggs from my basket, and now you’re coming back for the ham”, reinforced by some stinging guitar from both Johnson and his producer, Paul Niehaus IV.
Niehaus plays musical chairs on the loping, offbeat ‘Quicksand’, adding grooving, funky bass to the swampy vibe, plus dabs of Wurlitzer and contributions to some hey-hey-ing “gang” vocals, while Tom Maloney spices things up with slithering slide guitar, and Johnson plays out one side of a comic spoken dialogue.  It’s typical of an ensemble approach in which a whole array of musicians play their part, with special mention due to Kevin O’Connor for his horn and string arrangements.
And those horns get a special outing on closing track ‘The Band’, which starts off with a Shaft-like cool vibe, with behind-the-beat drums from Joe Meyer and restrained solo-ing from Johnson, before it metamorphoses into a Latino romp, driven along by pattering percussion from Tony Antonelli and O’Connor in support of Meyer’s drums, while the horns juke it out in fine style.
The starting point though, is the songs.  Johnson, ably assisted by Niehaus and Maloney, has the knack of writing interesting material that has warmth and personality.  Having dug those foundations, Hi-Fi Drive By then does them justice with a succession of impressive performances.  Jeremiah Johnson and friends have done a damn fine job here – hot diggity dog to ‘em.
Hi-Fi Drive By
 is released by Ruf Records on 21 September.

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