Take a guess as to which famous musician guitarist/vocalist Johnny Smith is related to. If you opted for guitar jazz legend Johnny Smith, as some might, you were wrong. Smith's uncle and aunt are Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett of rock music fame, who were a significant act circa 1970 with such hits as "Only You Know & I Know," "Never Ending Song Of Love" and "Soul Shake."
As advertised, Johnny Smith is a self-taught guitarist who sings and plays the harmonica with his two musical associates, guitarist Mark Holzinger and bassist Chris Justin. Although Smith recorded an earlier album, Just A Man (Napa Rain Publishing, 2002), this is his first venture into the Great American Songbook and other tunes.
The nature of many of the songs and the instrumentation of the group is similar to that of the John Pizzarelli trio, but there are some major differences. Smith seems very comfortable with the material, but is the material comfortable with him? Insofar as vocals are concerned, classic titles like Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin," Burton Lane's "Old Devil Moon" and Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon" are usually favored by crooners or belters. Johnny Smith's interpretation of them is relies on a relaxed but sometimes gruff delivery that detracts from our preconceived notions of how these songs ought to sound.
Even more indicative is Johnny Smith's preference for the blues. On songs like his vocal version of the Joe Zawinul jazz classic "Mercy Mercy Mercy," featuring the Larry Williams/Johnny Watson lyrics, he fits in perfectly. Likewise, a unique version of the Miles Davis standard "All Blues" is treated as just that... a harmonica country blues version with original lyrics by Jess Raphael. Smith thrives on the shuffle tempo of the Louis Jordan piece "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't (Ma' Baby)," delivering it in a comfortable manner. Other jazz material covered on this album includes Horace Silver's "Song For My Father" and Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'."
Some of the pleasures of this recording include the instrumental performances of the Great American Songbook selections. The group swings best on the shuffle tempo of the Mitchell Parish piece "Deep Purple," 'Riz Ortolani's early '60s film theme "More," and the Warren/Gordon classic "There Will Never Be Another You."
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Personnel: Johnny Smith: lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica; Mark Holzinger: lead guitar, backing
vocals; Chris Justin: bass.