Wayne Nicholson & John Campbelljohn Elmore’s Blues Grindstone Records campbelljohn.ca
I’ve listened to a lot of blues music this past spring and summer. I think this is the blues album I’ve enjoyed the most.
Some of us are familiar with Nova Scotia’s Wayne Nicholson, one of the most dynamic blues-rock vocalists Atlantic Canada has produced. We are also acquainted with Cape Breton’s John Campbelljohn, a fixture on Canada’s blues scene. Their music is frequently encountered on the radio shows.
I wasn’t expecting ‘this’ from them.
A tribute to slide guitarist and singer Elmore James, Elmore’s Blues simply cooks. It is a rugged, powerful recording, one that doesn’t try to get too uptown or put on any airs.
Recorded with a full band, this Nicholson/Campbelljohn project is very welcomed. Featuring Bruce Dixon (bass), Neil Robertson (drums), Barry Cooke (piano), and Kim Dunn (organ), the album cooks for a solid 50 minutes, across 12 songs from the James catalogue with a pair of appropriate originals mixed in.
Compare him to whomever you like (Paul Rodgers, David Clayton-Thomas), but for me Nicholson is every bit the singer Robert Plant was circa Band of Joy. As he tears through “Shake Your Money Maker,” “Knocking at Your Door,” and “Strange Kinda Feeling,” one is transported. His delivery is impeccable, and it is hard to tell who is working harder, the singer or the band. As it should be, they are completely in sync, playing off and supporting each other, taking the songs to the places they just need to go.
Of course, much of that has to do with Campbelljohn’s guitar picking and slide expertise. His leads on songs like “Standing at the Crossroads,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and “Sinful Woman” are in turns fiery and considered, masterfully constructed to benefit the song and singer.
Of the original songs, “If I Was Blue” seems to most fit within the oeuvre under consideration. It is a powerful lament, and Nicholson just grinds the song to pieces. (That’s a good thing.) More up-tempo and Saturday night is “Dancin’ with the Blues,” another fine track.
I have played Elmore’s Blues while driving, reading, eating, and drinking. It suits all moods and purposes. Simply, an expertly crafted recording. Unfortunately, I missed it for Polaris Music Prize consideration, not that it would have stood a chance!