Review from Harmonica World UK

Author: Rob Papraozzi

First, a new CD from Nashville Studio maven, Jelly Roll Johnson. I did review his previous CD were Jelly backed up some of the finest Singer-Songwriters in Nashville, but here is a totally instrumental project. Jelly calls his new CD Songs from the Record World because they are covers of songs most of us are familiar with- ones that inspired his muse…
Jelly uses regularly tuned diatonics and chromatics and has a tone that most of us would kill for! Backed by a trio (Bass, Guitar, and Drums) of some of the finest and tastiest players in Nashville, the support work by producer and Guitarist Pat Bergeson is stellar and will not go unnoticed as you listen to the way he and Jelly weave their musical tapestry for the listener.
The CD kicks off with the folk blues favourite “Key to the Highway” but done in a unique light swing shuffle feel and Jelly’s lyricism on the melody really makes this a great rendition of the Broonzy classic. (The Harp is a Bb in Cross).

Jelly’s tenure as the number one cat to backup a singer in Nashville has no doubt allowed him to develop his playing in such as way that now, on his own CD, he is the singer (with his harp) and knows precisely how to lay down a melody with all the phrasing of a great singer. The perk here is that we don’t get your typical harp licks strung together but a beautiful and subtle instrumental that beckons you to sing the words as he plays!

Next up is Percy Mayfield’s huge R&B hit, “Please Send me Someone to Love” and it’s played with all the soul you could ask for on our little instrument. (On this tune, he uses a G+ diatonic in Cross Harp.)

At this point Jelly switches to chromatic and a unique and sparse arrangement by Bergeson and Johnson of Duke Ellington’s ballad. “In a Sentimental Mood”. The beauty of hearing him on chromatic is that he brings his rich tone, so richly developed on diatonic, and transfers that “depth” giving him a full bodied sound. (C chromatic in F).

The other chromatic song is the Lil Armstrong ballad “Just for a Thrill” in G and again his lyricism combined with Bergeson’s Guitar interplay give new life to this old chestnut.

The rest of the CD is on diatonic, how can you go wrong with a Brother Ray Gospel tune, lightly swung and played with perfection, on “Hallelujah I Just Love her So” (C harp in Cross).

It’s not easy to play a Mose Allison tune as they are so unique to Mose’s vocals with his quirky phrasing but Jelly is right on it with “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy” and it speaks well on what sounds like to my ears a low F harp.

Patsy Cline had a hit with “Walkin’ after Midnight” and Jelly’s version on an A cross Harp keeps right in her groove with some tasty soloing and very cools use of overblows. This small band is kickin’ some butt on this lil’ ol country tune.

When Ray Charles sings the Joe Greene ballad “Don’t let the Sun Catch you Cryin” you can’t help feelin’ blue. When Jelly and Pat dig in on this gem, you will get the blues too but hearin’ this reading will leave you with a smile once your Blues leave town. (Ab harp in Cross).

“Busted” is a country classic that I associate with Ray also and Jelly really tells the story and will make you feel broke in a good way! (A harp in Cross).

Jelly Roll decides to end this excursion with a Jazz nugget by the late great bassist Charles Mingus titled “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” which sounds like an Ab harp in Cross. It is amazing how well this melody sits on a diatonic, especially in the hands of a master! Get this record, play along, sing along and just have a harpin’ ball…

I hope to see some of you at my Blood Sweet and Tears concert at the Astoria, London, 17 Sept, 2008.

Rob Paparozzi