Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Johnny Boy Kunk – Rough Start – 10 tracks / 45 minutes
The blues rarely sound so good.
On this album, local Boise bluesman Johnny Boy Kunk is stripped down to the most basic elements: with exception of the closing track which features some harmonica, there is nothing in these 45 minutes besides the man’s voice and excellent guitar playing (which includes a few acoustic songs). There is little studio magic here and it has a very organic and live-in-studio sound that at times almost sounds like a recording from generations past.
Most “solo” artists make music with backing session players, undoubtedly because keeping an entire album interesting with one instrument is a daunting task. The songs here (including Kunk originals as well as blues standards) have both the variation and passion required to ensure that the proceedings never grow stale. Although the music is drenched in the blues sound, unlike Neil Young’s Le Noise which was steeped in grunge-rock riffs, I was reminded of that great record simply because of the fact that they are both enthralling and truly solo works.
The record may be entitled Rough Start, but it gets off to anything but with “Black Haired Mama”. After a brilliant, shot-in-the-gut guitar intro, John sings about his “black haired mama, her skin as white as the falling snow”. This is a great example of what John has to offer both as a player and a writer, and when the song slows down drastically on the last several notes, it provides a rewarding finish.
After the slower and sparser “Pray to the Lord Above” (which finds Johnny Boy sounding like a lovesick man at rock bottom asking for help, or at least some answers), another crunchy groove carries the standout “Roll Me Over Slow”. On this track, he has some swagger to his lyrics and is loose in his delivery as he sings “when I come home in the evening, and sit down in my chair; my baby start running her fingers through my hair, roll me mama, roll me over slow.” Indeed.
“Journey Stream” is an instrumental that rolls along like a slow train – or, I suppose, a mountain stream. “Catfish Blues” is an excellent choice of a cover, and has plenty of space between the notes for the listener to get lost in, and who doesn’t enjoy the line “I wish I was a catfish, in the deep blue sea; with all them good lookin women, fishin’ after me”.
The best is saved for the last two tracks: “Snake Bite” has that steely, echoing guitar sound reminiscent of Jack White’s De Stijl-era interpretations of the blues, while “Just What You Want” brings things to a close with some raucous harmonica work and subtle foot-stomping percussion as John sings a warning disguised as invitation to “come with me darlin’, and throw it all away… I may not have what you need, but I sure got what you want”. If Rough Start is any indication, John Kunk is an artist to keep an eye (and both ears) on going forward.
Key Tracks: “Roll Me Over Slow”, “Just What You Want”, “Snake Bite”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/3bkrHTBpng9VrZIYjRgSjX?si=GkzuAedWRAyzmOACrGDH8w
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