by Rick Moore
Donald Ray Johnson was the drummer for A Taste of Honey (remember “Boogie Oogie Oogie”?), the Grammy-winning band that beat Toto and Elvis Costello for the “Best New Artist” award in 1979. Pretty unfair, actually, but that’s how the Grammys work. Anyway, Johnson ended up in Canada and went to work as a blues/R&B singer, and a darn good one, as evidenced by this album. With influences from Al Green (who he covers here with the album opener “Ain’t No Fun To Me”) to Bobby “Blue” Bland to Brook Benton, Johnson is a fine, smart singer who knows his strengths and his limitations, and does a great job of playing to each.
Most of the tunes here are originals, and they work just fine. Johnson is at his best when he sings the blues, which most of these songs are, and his sense of time is on the money; but then, having been a drummer, it should be. His cover of “Always On My Mind” is a bit of a clinker, but it sounds sincere. Of course, the blues is all about the guitar, and the guitar players on These Blues – The Best of Donald Ray Johnson are also pretty good, and borrow heavily and wisely from the Kings (Freddy, B.B. and Albert). Overall, this record is pretty enjoyable, and Johnson seems to be doing a good job of keeping the blues alive in Canada and at blues festivals around the world.
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