Can music ever save your mortal soul? That's the question Don McLean wrote which has stuck with me ever since I've been following the progress of Wilko Johnson on hearing the rather distressful news about his terminal cancer. That was about January 2013 and conservative estimates by doctors was that he had about six months left. However, choosing not to undergo chemotherapy may be his spiritual salvation and while this option will certainly not prolong his life, he's certainly retained some inner strength, not necessarily to carry on as normal, but at least to continue his loves, his music. He's also noted for having an all black Telecaster which he added a red scratchplate to, spicing up a little onstage persona as well as his all black American Smooth type attire.
It's a good bet that the general public haven't heard of the ex Dr Feelgood guitarist, and sadly he tends to be overshadowed by many other and more famous names with the six strings. But from what I've seen from his shows, his fretwork from a technical aspect is a simplistic delight to watch, though I know many of you won't agree with me. However, I will side with the minority who believe that Johnson is one of the best punk guitarists around, if not THE best, which is rather unusual given that punk is one of the most basic stripped down forms of music recordable. He's even found time to record an album alongside his better known colleague in Roger Daltrey, apparently they never really met until 2010 at an awards ceremony, where it transpired both of them had a love of rock n' roll first wave, hence this 2014 collaboration. A good friendship begins and an almost spontaneous thought to record some new material gets under way.
From what I've seen of my regular Johnson/Who updates, the two parties largely through social media have been heavily promoting Going Back Home, and it's garnered very well in the album charts here in the U.K. So, bowing to a few elbows in my ribs, I guess I should only take a look at this. First, it's the title track, a Johnson written pub jaunt with heavy influences of their rock n' roll heroes but a large stride on a basic three chorded song. It's not spectacular, but it's the weightiness and the quality that I am sold on, then it's Ice On The Motorway, the riff structure is another well thought out introduction and backdrop, while Daltrey proves he's not lost too much of the high pitch. In I Keep It To Myself, the narrative takes centre stage, with harmonica and Honky Tonk piano backing. Now for Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window, the only non Johnson written tune on the album, it's a Bob Dylan cover. I've not heard the original, but the two Londoners seem to do it a good service, and I certainly enjoy the chorus harmonies too.
Timing and mood-wise, it's all change at Turned 21, really slowed downed Rhythm & Blues, and smacks of a bittersweet tale but fortunately it's an interesting one. Keep On Loving You sees Johnson back on leads, a Steely Dan pastiche, save the three chorded base, while the pace picks up with Some Kind Of Hero which stays faithful to its pub rock traits. I've enjoyed Wilko's fretwork so far, but here in Sneaking Suspicion, it's a firm accompaniment to The Who frontman, and it's the same plot for Keep It Out Of Sight. Here it's a little different where Hammond player Mick Talbot (ex-Style Council) is featured more prominently. Then his Honky Tonk keywork takes to the forefront with Everybody's Carrying A Gun, another good piece of Daltrey running commentary on the streets of the Big Smoke.
Although I haven't been listening to Dr Feelgood for quite a while, I believe that the majority of these songs are all early material before Wilko left his band rather acrimoniously (he's always maintained that he was given the elbow before he could jump). Allegedly, this took only a week to rehearse and record. Really? Seems a bit too good to be true, but do bear in mind that Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey are two well accomplished artists by rights, and it's inevitable to say this may well be Wilko's last ever opportunity he gets to cutting a record. Other reviewers have lauded it to the rafters. But for me, while not a rock n' roll spectacular, at the very least it is an assured piece of offering from these two likeable characters. And a good torch to be held too, and one for Mr Johnson to reflect on when the time comes to reflect on his merits. All with a little help from his Who peer. They've done themselves no harm in producing this fine solid outing.
7.5 out of ten. This is good and well worth a check.
Best track : Everybody's Carrying A Gun
Who Official Website here (unfortunately, I couldn't find an official address for Roger Daltrey)