Big Jack Johnson and the Oilers
All the Way Back
MC 0035
Next time you're in the market for a new stereo, may I suggest taking along All the Way Back and popping it in to "All Messed Up." Turn that mutha up to 10, and if the speakers don't blow out, buy it! And if your present system can't handle that, time to give up eating and go shopping instead. Because you gotta have the goods to listen to Johnson's bone-rattling blues.

Coming fast on the heels of his first MC recording, the Handy-nominated We Got to Stop This Killin', All the Way Back is even better -- a spine-shattering high-speed cruise on the Delta's back roads in a big, black-on-red Buick. At this stage of the 20th century you're not supposed to hear this kind of music anymore. Nobody else is doing it, that's for sure -- only Johnson, squeezing his beefy hands around the neck of an Epiphone and, like scores of ghosts before him, making the devil's music.

Only now it's louder, more urgent -- time is running out, remember. The slide is charged like lightning along a wet rail track. The stomp of the boogie needs a drummer with mallets and a long-distance runner's endurance. The "Crackheaded Woman" doesn't need a sermon but a stinging indictment and maybe a knock upside the head. A Johnson concert ain't a pretty thing. It's a sweaty, noisy, primal release. All the Way Back comes pretty damned close to recreating that experience.

While this is a consistently solid set, there are a few standouts worthy of mention. "Miss Magallee Hall" will immediately bring to mind the young John Lee Hooker with its boogie-based charge and Johnson's vocal timbre. The aforementioned "All Messed Up" is an instrumental rave that features Johnson's hammered notes and helter-skelter slide. And "I Can't Get No Loving" finds Johnson backed only by a rhythm guitar and singing a gritty lament, punctuated by his razor-wire guitar leads.

Mention also needs be made of guest keyboardist Little Anthony Geraci's considerable contribution to the full sound, and to the excellent engineering that went into creating a spacious soundstage for the musicians. I'm so tired of hearing blues recordings that have the band sounding like a human pyramid on stage. No, the bass player, lead guitarist, drummer and vocalist don't actually stand in the same spot, folks.

Anyone who hasn't discovered Big Jack Johnson yet has a big, gaping hole in their blues experience. All the Way Back is a sure-fire remedy.

-- Jack Oudiz

This page and all contents are © 1998 by Blues Access,
Boulder, CO, USA.