Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Wilko Johnson has been around long enough to become one of those quintessential British characters, beloved in his homeland because he's such an odd duck.  Back in the 70's he was the attack dog-guitarist for pub rock vets Dr. Feelgood, pre-punk meat and potatoes R'n'B bar band with an unlikely #1 album, Stupidity, in 1976.  Cut loose by the band the next year, he drifted with his own groups, then joined Ian Dury and the Blockheads in the early 80's.  Since then, albums and bands have come and gone, but Dr. Feelgood's reputation as increased in the last few years, as punk's hierarchy started paying their debt to the group that paved the way.  Meanwhile, Wilko appeared in the acclaimed Julian Temple documentary Oil City Confidential about the group in 2009, and the resurgence placed him back in the spotlight.  Bald, menacing but with a heart of gold, he was finally getting his due respect.

Then last year, it was announced Johnson had terminal cancer, and with a stiff upper lip and a mix of toughness and humour, he went about doing interviews, playing final shows, and living his last days to their fullest.  Roger Daltry felt some affinity, shared R'n'B roots and working class upbringing with Johnson, they'd talked about recording together in the past, but with the cancer news, Daltry stepped up to the mike to record this quickly with Johnson and his band.  It's eleven songs, under forty minutes, all written by Johnson over the course of his career, except a cover of Bob Dylan's Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window.  It landed in the Top Five in the British charts, so it's already the biggest hit for either in years.

All of this is fine, and good for both of them.  But I'm not going to hype the disc, it's a bit of a routine run-through of mostly basic and middling songs.  Even the numbers from Feelgood's glory days (Going Back Home, Keep It Out Of Sight) have little to raise them above the sound of a million blues bar bands.  It's all the same; Wilko's slashing chords up front, bass loud, piano, organ and harmonica chiming in.  Daltry has lost a bit of range in the last few years, and substitutes some growling for nuance.  Only the jovial boogie of All Through The City livens things up, and that is saved for the last track.  See, it has a memorable lyric and hook:  "I've been searching all through the city, see you in the morning down by the jetty."  Like most beloved British characters, Johnson is better known for being himself than for a great body of work.

No comments:

Post a Comment