Johnny Max Band: It’s A Long Road

Johnny Max Band

Pour Soul Records


The gentleman known as Johnny Max is Canada’s best-loved blues chameleon. He plays it out fronting the Johnny Max Band, an ever-changing who’s who of bluesy sidemen, united in the service of the song.

 

On this album though, there are signs this particular line-up may be in for the long U-Haul. For one big thing, the band gets full co-credits on production and songwriting, so behind the bandleader are: Vince Maccarone on drums, Wayne Deadder on bass, John Findlay on guitar and Jesse O’Brien on keyboards. For added colour, throw in a four-piece brass section, a backing vocalist and additional percussion and the whole thing cooks with a decidedly N’Awlins gumbo feel.


Right from the get go, the rolling barrelhouse piano lines O’Brien deploys on ‘Daddy’s Little Girl” lets you know how it’s gonna be. The swamp blues vibe hangs like Spanish moss on 'Too Many Fish' and 'One Day’ flexes the hard muscle beneath the slow grind. 

 

Elsewhere, a soulful r’n’b sound, ably abetted by Hammond-esque keyboard riffs from O’Brien is the other side of this coin, best paid out on 'Heading Back To You', underpinned by tasty country/soul guitar lines that wouldn’t be out of place on a Holmes Brothers album. The blues gets even more countrified on the epic ‘Song Of New York’, a wry tale in which the Apple treats our man less than kindly.

 

To demonstrate their musical dexterity, the band turns its attention from that tasteful setup to the swampy raunch’n’roll of ‘Too Many Fish’, then it’s off to get all bayou funky riding the baritone sax on the ensemble standout ‘I’m In Trouble’.

 

Can’t say there are no generic moments here but they’re left in the dust by the more than generous and tasty helpings of hooky boogie blues. 

Tell ya, Johnny Max be wise to hustle hard to keep this crew together. Heck, even the horn section, officially not part of the band, made contributions that were essential to certain tunes. This is not lost on Johnny, who gives full credit to saxman Johnny Johnson for the horn charts. 


Perhaps the most interesting development here is that of Johnny Max as social commentator, working with lyrics that dig deeper into the musician’s life (“It’s A Long Road), urban disaffection (‘Song Of New York’) and yer basic existential angst (‘You Tell Me’). 

 

This one leans a little less on the rock but it sure do stroll a mean groove all the way to many Blues Album of the Year lists.

 

James Lizzard.