Album Reviews

Chuck Johnson and Charlyhorse

Barb Wire

Artist:     Chuck Johnson and Charlyhorse

Album:     Barb Wire

Label:     Little King

Release Date:     02/21/2016


I’ve played “Name the Inspiration” through multiple spins of Chuck Johnson and Charlyhorse’s Barb Wire, and still new ones pop up all the time. Certainly Poco, the Oak Ridge Boys and Alabama (the harmonies!), early Bruce Hornsby, the 1973 Allman Brothers Band, a little Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker Band, and—although they probably don’t realize it—the rarely-heard Tucker spinoff SevenMoore. But make no mistake, these songs—all by the singer and guitarist Johnson—have a depth all their own. Sure, there’re the Chevy’s, the farm and steel towns, phrases like “I reckon” and “young-un,” cheap whisky, and Western skies. But it’s lines like “There’s somethin’ ‘bout that black man make me feel good inside” in “Walk,” and “Raised on the creek, washed in the blood, family as thick as bottom land mud” in “Shine” that make all the difference. The acoustic drive of the former tune shows how well Johnson and Dale Meyer play with and off each other on guitars. They’re at once energetic and wonderfully artistic. Meyer’s also one heck of a mandolin player. His cascades in “Raylean” are perfect for highlighting the pouring out of shadowy Southern emotion. Then there’s Dennis Johnson, the pianist and B3 player who also thumps the upright bass. His beautiful, stately rolls of piano that get “Eliana” going lead her gloriously down a live oak-shaded pathway. Same with “The Effort,” that experience effortless and free despite the grave subject matter of relationship discord by way of recklessness. What they used to call country/rock gets a fresh whitewashing here, topped with well-crafted, exquisitely sharp barb wire. When radio was king, this North Carolina-bred band would have barreled across its airwaves, with no cramp whatsoever.

-Tom Clarke

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