You Should Buy This Record

Author: Richard Hunter

I received my copy of Jelly Roll Johnson’s latest CD “Songs From The Record World” last week, and had the opportunity to listen to the CD straight through 4 times on a long drive. And I enjoyed every minute of all 4 spins. The CD is basically a jazz quartet recording with Jelly playing acoustic harp (diatonic and chromatic) backed by a trio of electric guitar, bass, and drums. The overall approach is very traditional in every sense, no wild electronics or frenzied atonal explorations. The sound of the recording is warm and seductive, with every instrument speaking clearly in an overall mix that is thoroughly cohesive–classic small-group jazz. In short, the engineer earned his pay. So did the musicians. The great thrill of this record is hearing four excellent players play to each other in the same room at the same time with a lot of quiet drive and total empathy. The accompaniments are very supportive and swinging, and Jelly’s lead work is just great.

I’ve known for a while that few musicians play melody as well as Jelly. This is the first time I’ve heard him solo over blues, pop, country, and jazz material at length, and he sounds completely in command at all times. I especially liked the low-register harp sounds on pieces like “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy”– I suspect Jelly is playing third position major on a low F harmonica. Whatever the instrument is, he’s getting some great growling sounds in that bottom octave. I also liked his chromatic work on Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” my favorite piece of all time, which I covered a cappella on my first CD, “The Act of Being Free in One Act.” Jelly’s tone on this piece is very diatonic-like and his solo has a lot of blues in it, but you can hear characteristic chromatic harp turns in a number of places. I don’t know any other chromatic player who sounds quite like that.The theme of the CD is Jelly’s exposure to a range of blues, country, and jazz classics at the Record World record store in Cleveland, Tennessee in his formative years. There’s a picture of the store on the package, there’s a dedication to the now-deceased owner, and the sense of time and place remembered is strong in the music. This is a great way to go home again.

You should buy this record, “you” in this case meaning everyone in the world, and especially anyone who enjoys hearing harmonica played brilliantly in front of a great, grooving band.

Regards, Richard Hunter
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