We’ve mentioned the name Johnny Burgin here a few times before, with Burgin having appeared as a guest guitarist on recent projects such as Tony Holiday’s Porch Sessions and the Howlin’ Wolf tribute album Howlin’ at Greaseland. While it’s been great to get a taste of Johnny’s playing on those albums, we’ve really been meaning to check out a bit more of his work — and, as someone who started his career backing the likes of such blues legends as Tail Dragger, Pinetop Perkins, Sam Lay, and Billy Boy Arnold both live and in the studio, there’s certainly more than enough to check out — but his new album Johnny Burgin – Live (Delmark Records) makes for a plenty good place to start.
Recorded in January at the Redwood Cafe in Cotati, California, the album offers a delightful listen to the singer and guitarist (who has since dropped the “Rockin'” that used to precede his name) not only fronting his own trio but joined by a handful of talented West Coast guests that range from well-known musicians such as harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite and guitarist Kid Andersen to rising stars like saxophone player Nancy Wright, harmonica player Aki Kumar, and vocalist Rae Gordon.
With that kind of diversity, the highlights here are many, with some of our favorite tracks including the slow blues numbers “Can’t Make It Blues” (with traditional blues-style lyrics that, for example, personify “‘need more’ and ‘got-to-have'” as “tuggin’ on my coat” and “hangin’ around my door”) and the Magic Sam-like “When the Bluesman Comes to Town”, one of three songs that features Musselwhite; the shuffling instrumental “Louisiana Walk” with Wright on sax; and the grooving, powerful “Late Night Date Night” that has Gordon delivering some growling, Sista Monica-ish vocals along with Andersen on piano.
Gordon is also featured vocalist on a swaying, horn-accented “You Took the Bait”, in addition to joining Burgin for a duet on Robert Lockwood Jr.’s “I Got To Find Me A Woman”, with Burgin’s own vocals sounding similar to those of a Hadden Sayers or Murali Coryell while also laying down some superb West Side Chicago-style guitar playing throughout the album in the vein of Otis Rush and Magic Sam.
The shuffling grooves of “You’re My Trinket” and a funky strolling “She Gave Me the Slip” offer a few more tracks particularly worth a listen, although really everything here is solid, making Johnny Burgin – Live a recording new and longtime fans of Burgin alike will appreciate. Check it out today!