First off, here’s the description of the album as described on Vail Johnson’s website, as well as CD Baby, and wherever else the album is available:
“New from Vail Johnson (bassist to the stars; Herbie Hancock to Kenny G to Keb' Mo'; Stevie Nicks to Whitney Houston) comes a new style, fusing Americana, Blues, Soul and Country with Jazz; he calls it 'JazzAmericana'.
“This mix of originals and covers of timeless classics may raise some eyebrows amongst the die-hard Country traditionalists, but we hope you will enjoy what we think is a very unique and original approach to modern music.
Vail sings and plays bass & drums on all tracks; he enlisted top-line session players in Los Angeles and Nashville to bring his vision to light. Please enjoy!”__________________________________________________________________________
The new album, “The Seventh Son,” by Vail Johnson is a tremendous jewel in his already weighty musical crown. From first play, you can hear the effort and thoughtful skill that went into its creation. The genres listed above are all so cleverly melded together that this really does feel like a new type of music. I hear the Jazz, Blues, and Soul influences mostly in the vocals, but I hear Country as the prevailing instrumental foundation, so I think that’s where I’ll draw my first thoughts.
Country music was born for the bass guitar (and vice versa). Whoever lays down the thunder in Country forms a strong backbone to a genre of music known for getting folks onto the dance floor. Country bass is not necessarily complicated, nor full of many elaborate changes, but Vail Johnson steps in to shake up that routine. He lays down the classic grooves, but also introduces some carefully placed, colourful fills and standout solos that might turn the traditional fan’s ear. It seriously draws you in. What am I hearing? It’s... Country, sort of. It’s got a lot of Soul, and... This song has a Bluesy vocal, but...
Johnson plays it subtle and cool on all fronts, and it’s a real credit to his imagination. It’s much more than simply being an inventive bass player; it’s about his highly creative ideas as a complete package. He also plays drums on the album, and so controls the rhythm section for the entire collection. His performance as drummer is neat and tidy. With some of those impressive bass patterns woven in, I think it’s a wise choice to keep the drums on the straight and narrow. I love the straightforward delivery, complemented by the flavours of the bass.
And speaking of flavours, Johnson also plays some keyboard here and there throughout. The versatility expands! He also sings all the songs! His voice is as tasty as the bass. It's rich and masculine, with good range and just enough growl to challenge some of the best Country singers in the world. He infuses every tune with a vocal delivery that really ups the ante when it comes to cover performances. I am more than impressed with the moods and feelings he captures with his voice. It’s simply another instrument that he plays very well.
His bandmates are all so tuned in to what he has going on. I almost don’t know what to say about the guitars, pedal steel, and various organs and keyboards. It’s just such an earful on all fronts that I think I need to stop studying and just LISTEN.
Um, so anyway, what’s left? Oh, yeah, in addition to the covers, he also includes several original compositions. Man, oh, man! I think it’s safe to say that Johnson has claimed this multi-dimensional genre as his own, and reigns as King of its mountain; he really gets it, and makes sure the listeners get it, too.
The covers include:
- Wichita Lineman by Jimmy WebbAcoustic & Papoose Guitars - John Raymond; Rhodes & Hammond B-3 - Robert Damper; Pedal Steel - Bruce Bouton; Bass, Vocals & Drums - Vail Johnson
- Love the One You're With by Stephen StillsRhodes - Hans Zermuehlen; Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Mandolin - Joe DiBlasi; Bass, Vocals & Drums - Vail Johnson
A completely new feeling on this wonderful Folk/Rock tune. Sooo good.
- Honky Tonk Night Time Man by Merle HaggardPedal Steel - Bruce Bouton; Electric & Acoustic Guitars - Joe DiBlasi; Wurlitzer Piano - Hans Zermuehlen; Bass, Vocals & Drums - Vail Johnson
Interesting that Johnson picked this one - I hear a lot of similarities between his and Haggard’s voices.
- Amarillo By Mornin' by Terry Stafford and Paul FraserNylon string & Papoose guitars - John Raymond; Piano & Rhodes - KC Martin; Bass, Vocals & Drums - Vail Johnson
This is easily my fave song on the album. The vocal harmonies are to die for. Moody and atmospheric. Like no Country you've ever heard before.
Trivia: Terry Stafford is the same artist who brought us SUSPICION.
Based on the job Johnson does on Amarillo By Mornin', I’d sacrifice body parts to hear him and the band lay down a version of Suspicion.
- Ring of Fire by June Carter and Merle KilgoreElectric Guitars - Danny Parks; Electric Guitar & Harmonica - Pat Bergeson; Hammond B-3 - KC Martin; Bass, Vocals, Drums & Wurlitzer - Vail Johnson
Love the song, love the arrangement.
- Heartache Tonight by Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bob Seger, and J. D. SoutherElectric and Acoustic Guitars & Harmonica - Pat Bergeson; Rhodes - KC Martin; Bass, Vocals & Drums - Vail Johnson
The Eagles would be proud!
- Rose in Paradise by Stewart Harris and Jim McBrideRhodes - Hans Zermuehlen; Electric Guitars - Joe DiBlasi; Acoustic Guitar & Mandolin - Tom Hemby; Pedal Steel - Bruce Bouton; Bass, Vocals & Drums - Vail Johnson
- Some Kind of Wonderful by John EllisonElectric Guitars - Danny Parks; Rhodes - Hans Zermuehlen; Bass, Vocals & Drums - Vail Johnson
Amazing take on a song that’s been done in many ways! I love it that I can now say, “I like the Vail Johnson version of this song.”
- Can't Get Enough by Mick RalphsElectric Guitars & Harmonica - Pat Bergeson; Bass, Vocals, Rhodes & Drums - Vail Johnson
Harmonica opening! Harder rock-like cover, but still very smooth! I love the vocal changes in the pre-chorus.
Vail Johnson's original compositions include:
- Country Soul (with Kenneth Wright)Electric & Acoustic Guitars - Mike Severs; Pedal Steel - Bruce Bouton; Piano & Wurlitzer - Michael B. Hicks; Bass, Vocal & Drums - Vail Johnson
Brushes on a snare drum. The perfect touch. Sounds like it was written in the 50s. Very traditional song.
- One of These Days (with Brandon Maddox)Drums - Rich Redmond; Electric & Acoustic Guitars - George Marinelli; Pedal Steel - Bruce Bouton; Rhodes - Hans Zermuehlen; Bass & Vocals Vail Johnson
A snappy tune - modern and dance-worthy!
- Dreams of the HeartPiano - Michael B. Hicks; Pedal Steel - Bruce Bouton; Electric & Acoustic Guitars - Mike Severs; Bass, Vocals & Drums - Vail Johnson
A tender song, a little sad. I love the melody of this one.
- You Got It (with Brandon Maddox)Electric & Acoustic Guitars - Mike Severs; Pedal Steel - Bruce Bouton; Bass, Vocals, Drums & Piano - Vail Johnson
Just listen to Johnson’s voice!
I am so thrilled with Vail Johnson’s new album, "The Seventh Son," that all I can say to you is RUN OUT AND GET A COPY! NOW! This is a must-have for your collection. It's easily going into the pile for consideration as Thunder Row's Album Of The Year for 2015.