Johnny B and the Goodes – “Have Mercy”

A CD Review by Michael Witthaus

Harp player Johnny Bishop is a steady presence in the area music scene since moving north from Virginia a few years back.  Blues fans that have enjoyed him in bands like Blue Monday and Have Blues Will Travel, will be pleased with this CD, the first from Bishop’s main band.

“Have Mercy” features songs from rock and blues mainstays like Muddy Waters (“Honey Bee” and “Trouble No More,” popularized by the Allman Brothers) and Fats Domino  (“I’m Ready”), but the emphasis is on Bishop’s harmonica heroes, Little Walter in particular.

Of particular note are covers of two shuffle blues,  “It’s Too Late Brother” and “Mellow Down Easy.” On the first, Bishop smoothes a bit of the gravel from Little Walter’s vocals. He channels Willie Dixon’s smoky singing  style on the latter, helped by some pop and flash from guest guitarist Ted Mortimer.

Throughout, Bishop punches up the harp playing on each of the classics he takes on, adding a modern sheen that recalls Magic Dick of the J. Geils Band and Blues Traveler’s John Popper.

He gives the disc’s other Little Walter track, the slow burning instrumental “Blue Lights,” some jazzy textures, admirably anchored by the rhythm duo of bass player Brian Kennell  (of the Squids) and drummer Bobby Gagnier.

On “Hard Hearted Woman,” a slow blues number written by Walter Horton (harp player and self-proclaimed tutor to both Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson) , Ed Eastridge’s nimble touch on guitar,  along with Bishop’s soulful vocals and scale-stretching harmonica antics, provide the high moments.

Bishop strips all restraint from “Nine Below Zero,” transforming Sonny Boy Williamson’s smooth, steady (and oft-covered) original into a rock and roll rave up.  He then  takes “Good Rockin’ Tonight”  in the opposite direction, bringing a languid feel to the buoyant Roy Brown tune.

“Mood Tuesday” is another surprise, one of two Bishop originals on “Have Mercy.”   The acoustic song features guest guitarist Wally Wysk offering up flamenco flourishes  in an acoustic stew that’s part Duke Ellington, and part Django Reinhart.  The shift is a bit jarring, but it works nonetheless.

The other original, “I’m Lonesome, “ is a straight-up blues rock number with a Fabulous Thunderbirds energy.  It will undoubtedly fill a few Upper Valley dance floors before too long – beginning  with a CD release party this Friday at Salt Hill Pub in Lebanon.

The production, shared by Bishop and guitarist Ed Eastridge, is crisp throughout.

Johnny B. and the Goodes play a CD Release Party At Salt Hill Pub Friday (9 PM, FREE ADMISSION)