Album Reviews

The Soul of John Black

Early in the Moanin’

Artist:     The Soul of John Black

Album:     Early in the Moanin’

Label:     Cadabra

Release Date:     02/03/2017

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John Bigham, the force of The Soul of John Black, is back with his sixth album, his first since 2013. Bigham navigates the rhythms and textures of blues and R&B, creating as one magazine put it, “a whole new brand of soul.” There’s something about his smooth, slinky approach that immediately induces smiles. I’ve seen this effect on others too, when hearing this unheralded talent for the first time. His music is a fusion of the vintage R&B we associate with Stevie Wonder, Al Green, and Lenny Kravitz with hints of blues, funk, reggae and even hip-hop sprinkled in. It’s more contemporary than classic in sound. Bigham comments, “Oddly enough, I didn’t get into really deep old school blues until I was working with Miles and he recorded songs with John Lee Hooker I also figured that if his music and Miles Davis’ could blend so beautifully, I should be able to find my own way of combining everything that I love.”

Bigham has long been an experimenter. In 1989 he began an eight-year tenure playing guitar and keyboards in the ska-funk-punk band Fishbone. He’s logged plenty of time as a touring sideman and session man. And, he had a short stint with Miles. His solo career as The Soul of John Black began in 2003. He’s based in Los Angeles and self produces his albums with some of the area’s best R&B and hip-hop session players.

Bigham calls this effort his “love letter to the blues. I’m taking it back to Mississippi to the Delta, in my own way.” The title track, “Chicago Blues” (which, except for the guitar lines, doesn’t resemble the Chicago blues you’re thinking about), “Cher” (with its nod to Bobby Blue Bland’s “St. James Infirmary,” and “I Wish Was Makin’ Love” represent the blues, while most of the other tunes carry the unmistakable feel-good R&B that’s colored Bigham’s material through his five previous releases. The closer, “Sunset Drive” is a breezy instrumental. Several tunes have the call-and-response technique usually associated with gospel. It’s a soul-roots sound that is eminently accessible and acceptable for a range of radio formats, and makes you long for the days when you could find music this good on mainstream stations.

Be sure to keep this one with you to play whenever you need to lift your spirits.

-Jim Hynes

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