With the very first track, out of the body of this skinny white man comes a grizzled, raspy black man’s voice. “Yonder Comes the Blues” is a slurring, staggering, authentic and whiskey-fueled ode to bad luck with deliberately sloppy chord changes and plenty of heart and soul. Little Johnny Kantreed doesn’t just sing the blues – he’s grown up with the sound, he knows the history, and he can belt them out with the best. These songs paint dark watercolors and put me right into the frame. Old houses with decaying front porches. Walking barefoot on torn-up streets, drinking homemade red wine, seeking fame and fortune. Bad women and even worse decisions. But Kantreed knows that the purpose of the blues isn’t to wallow in misery. He delivers many of these songs with a sly, wicked grin, including my personal favorite, “Relatives.” He claims to be kin to a woman who spends her day smoking in bed and listening to the police scanner, a cousin who had a shotgun wedding to a carnie and was divorced by age fifteen, and a grandpa with a belt buckle as big as a serving tray. He sings that the scary thing for him is that all these people know where he lives. The scary thing for me is that I believe him. A special tip of the battered pageboy cap goes to Micol Davis, who adds her lovely vocals to two of these tracks. She has a Dolly Parton quality that melts perfectly into this sound. “I had the blues so bad one time, it put my face in a permanent frown,” Kantreed sings at one point. Maybe. But there’s too much spirited mischief in these songs to make me believe that he’s really down for the count.
Little Johnny Kantreed has been around the musical block, and his new CD, "Acoustic Alley Blues", brilliantly confirms his musical journey. Little Johnny's new CD demonstrates a natural, diamond-in-the-rough, retro style that is so very refreshing in this time of overly dubbed, overly polished recordings. "Acoustic Alley Blues" is a back porch, rocking-chair masterpiece that brings to mind a lazy Sunday afternoon catfish fry, complete with hound dogs looking for a little piece of table scrap heaven. Almost totally acoustic and untainted by filler of any kind, this CD is down-home acoustic folk blues at its rough-sawn best. Recorded and produced at Little Hollywood Studio by Nashville blues legend Danny Lee Ramsey, "Acoustic Alley Blues" will make you smile, and take you home.
I've been a fan of Johnny's since I heard "Front Porch Blues", so "Acoustic Alley Blues" is a real treat for me. Besides the captivating guitar work, which has soothed many a working hour for me this summer, the lyrics in this set are wonderfully entertaining. After I checked to make sure we weren't really cousins ("Relatives"), I slipped into a daydream during "Flat World", courtesy of Micol Davis' beautiful vocal harmony. And "You Could Do A Lot Worse"...well, you know who you are. And I hope you do. I love acoustic guitar and clever lyrics, and I'm tempted to quote from every song, but instead I'll just say that this is a great CD and you really ought to check it out. I've heard it's a little John Prine, I thought maybe a little Arlo Guthrie, but it's definitely all Johnny, and when Johnny's a-pickin', I'm a grinnin'!
A guy with a guitar and a dream CAN make it happen! Write some great songs and just be yourself. Players in Americana, Blues and Folk might do what Little Johnny Kantreed has done. Give this CD a listen and you will be pleasantly surprised that a hardworker can do this business, produce his own indie CD and make a difference. Lots of great lyrics and a real love for the genre, Little Johnny may not "reed", but he sure can play. He's played in the Delta and played all over the place, here with Micol Davis from Blue Mother Tupelo helping out. A definite thumbs up!
Anyone who was at the MCBS Christmas party back in December 2004 at the Boardwalk Cafe might recall that Little Johnny Kantreed played an acoustic set early that evening. We didn't know it at the time, but Little Johnny previewed several songs that night from his new CD, "Acoustic Alley Blues". It is indeed a fine set of acoustic blues, just perfect for a summer's eve listen on your front porch! Johnny's been a friend of ours for a number of years. Born and raised in the Nashville area, he spent some time as a DJ and in various bands before heeding the call of the blues. This set finds Johnny mainly using a Regal squareneck dobro or a Regal steel body resonator for thirteen cuts of prime blues, several with a sly touch of humor! He strums a banjo on two cuts, "Bird By Bird" and the hilarious self-penned "Nashville Blues", which could serve as the biography of many a Music City bluesman and the slings and arrows they suffer to play the blues! Also, Micol Davis of Blue Mother Tupelo guests on two cuts, a Carter Family-like "Flat World", and the poignant tale of a love not meant to be, "If I Had My Way". We had several favorites, too. We've always liked Johnny's version of "Stagger Lee", which is much closer to the way the song was written, as opposed to the more popular recorded versions that exist. Johnny gives a low-down woman her walkin' papers with another of his own compositions, "When You Leave Me". The guitar here is superb, with Johnny running down the Elmore James-ish riffs. And, he tells another misleading lover that, after she decides to leave, that she "could do a lot worse" than him! Hands-down, tho, we enjoyed Johnny's take on "Relatives", who, unfortunately, "know where ya live"! This one is a real hoot, and Johnny's vocal delivery here is reminiscent of "Dear Abby"-era John Prine. This is another finely-crafted set from one of MCBS' great talents, Little Johnny Kantreed. Get you a cold one, get in the hammock, and turn on "Acoustic Alley Blues" and....ENJOY!
Acoustic Alley Blues is a huge step up for Little Johnny, with understated sincerity in his vocal, guitar and harmonica work. Also, I love the beautiful way he uses Micol Davis (of Blue Mother Tupelo) to sing plaintive harmonies on a couple of cuts.
If you enjoy a good ole' country blues song, with a great storyline, you'll love such songs as "Relatives", "If I Had My Way", and, of course, "Nashville Blues". I think Little Johnny Kantreed has a bright future ahead.