Big Jack Johnson and the Oilers
All the Way Back
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