Album review: BRUCE “MISSISSIPPI” JOHNSON – The Deal Baby

Bruce MIssissippi Johnson - The Deal Baby

Self Release [Release date 26.05.17]

Bruce ‘Mississippi’ Johnson is a singer with a colourful past. As his nick name suggests, he hails from Mississippi, and aside from being a marine, he learnt his craft in Paris with veteran B.B. King bass player, the late Big Joe Tuner and now he’s stepping out in own right in London.

Topped by an atmospheric Barry White style message on the ’Let It Rain (intro)’: “The blues is love and love is the blues” and tailed on the ‘Let It Rain (outro)’ by: “May your blues be few”, this is actually more of a funk and soul album than straight blues.

‘The Deal Baby’ is everything that Parisian hotels love, as Johnson is an American blues singer with an expressive baritone voice who tastefully delivers reflective relationship songs backed by a fine band, who on this album are an integral part of a polished production.

Stylistically he’s closer to a Las Vegas lounge than a blues club, while musically he’s anchored to soulful funk, but a combination of his fine singing and seamless band interplay seal the deal.

His relationship songs are best exemplified by the cool funk of ‘The Neighbour Next Door’ and by the end of the song he’s evoking the soulful Robert Cray.

Most of the album is shot through with his earthy baritone which brings a full range of emotion to his lyrics. His pitch and timing is impeccable. He knows when to hold back, when to extend a vowel and when to attack a lyric to bring extra emphasis. Both the slick band and tight arrangements provide the perfect showcase for his pristine diction.

The band is anchored by keyboard player Johan Dalgaard, who figures prominently both as a soloist and an accompanist on several deep grooves with a recurring funky feel. He also takes the first solo on ’That’s The Deal Baby’, on which the duo get low down and funky, Herbie Hancock style.

Bruce also occasionally talks directly to the listener via a rap style intro, as on ‘I Can’t Shake The Blues’, which despite the title owes more to the funk of Johnny Guitar Watson than blues. But the more up tempo arrangement with interlocking Hammond, horns and a snappy hook works well.

Some deft horn stabs also feature on the slickly arranged ‘I’m Gonna Bring Your Game Down’, on which Johnson’s phrasing evokes the late Lou Rawls.

The band locks into a tight groove as Bruce emotes with restrained anger, while some cleverly double tracked vocals add bite to the narrative. It’s a track that could have been extended in the manner of one of his heroes – Gil Scott-Heron – rather than the perfunctory fade here.

No matter, the sudden finish leaves the listener wanting more, which is an essential device on album that rarely strays from its middle of the road funky origins and all too readily slips back into the laid back mode of ‘No Good’ and the MOR feel of ‘I’ll Bleed’.

If ‘The Deal Baby’ sits more easily with a jazz rather than blues club environment, that shouldn’t lead us to under estimate Johnson’s abilities as a vocalist and collaborative songwriter with keyboard player Johan Dalgaard.

If nothing else this debut album offers a glimpse of plenty more good stuff to come. ***½

Review by Pete Feenstra

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