The Smoke Wagon Blues Band- The Ballad of Albert Johnson review

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band The Ballad of Albert Johnson

Building upon 25 years of stompin’ blues experience, The Smoke Wagon Blues Band—perhaps Hamilton, Ontario’s most revered blues showband—returns with another slice of swinging, soulful, and energetic music.

Having heard about the group for years, and catching the occasional song on the blues shows and channels, I was eager to experience an entire album for the first time. I wasn’t disappointed.

Thirteen tracks, all but one original (a refreshing cover of “The Fat Man,” in honour of Mr. Domino), The Ballad of Albert Johnson doesn’t pause for a lot of breaths. Corey Luech’s graveled vocals and flavourful harp playing is immediately noticed, of course. The lead, title track is impressive, a tale of the Mad Trapper’s “last stand”; anti-heroes have long found a home in the blues, and this song sets the stage for 53 minutes of blues with a Canadian twist. A jam mid-song allows the entire seven-piece outfit to warm-up their listeners’ thirsty ears.

Several songs sound very much of the South (“Mescaline,” “Lay Say Lay;” and “Memphis Soul,” to name three) while others are more universal. The weeping ballad “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool” could be from the popular charts of the 50s, and “Metapedia River Blues” is a gentle, meandering ode to an eastern Canada waterway. These keyboard-rich numbers (the first piano, the latter organ) provide the album with stylistic variety. Working man blues (“Sacrifice” and “Poor Man Blues”—“the trickledown is running late”) always have their place, as does a lost love lament, in this case “A Song for Cheryl.”

The Ballad of Albert Johnson is a satisfying blues album, sure to enliven your socially distant, limited-in-number backyard, summer gathering.

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