Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review: Vinyl Edition of 'Johnny “Guitar” Watson'


The artists of the fifties weren’t necessarily known for their eclecticism, but Johnny “Guitar” Watson was a true exception. Toying with pure blues, soul, pop standards, jazz, and Rock & Roll, Watson bucked limitations at the very start of his career. As a singer, he could grit it up like Stax’s nastiest renegades or spread on the sweet butter like Tamla’s smoothest stars. Even the specificity of his nickname couldn’t keep him from having his way with keyboards, percussion, and the saxophone.  As the decades progressed, he always moved with the times, scoring hits in the funk era with stuff like “Superman Lover” and “A Real Mother for Ya” and convincingly laying claim to the invention of rap. Hell, you could even argue that his “Posin’” pioneered voguing when Madonna was barely toilet trained.

A dozen of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s early sides are represented on an eponymous 1963 compilation for King Records. While blues dominates, the tracks play with the form enough so that you never feel like you’re hearing the same thing twice. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a pretty string arrangement sweeten hard blues as successfully as one does on “Cuttin’ In”. When Watson strays from the blues form, as when he dives into the Great American Songbook and swims up with “Embraceable You”, he kicks up enough vocal debris that it doesn’t sound out of place among its bluesier company. Modern Harmonic Records’ new vinyl edition of Johnny “Guitar” Watson is warmly and richly mastered from the original tapes through an all analog process onto orange vinyl.
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