Wilko Johnson

Keep It To Myself  (The Best of Wilko Johnson)

(Chess/UMC)

I have recently spoken to the guitar man in black we know as Wilko Johnson for a third installment in our series of chats about him, his life, his music – watch this site for the publication of that. In the meantime this pair of CD albums serves to remind us all of his back catalogue of songs and the variety within his compositions. Sometimes the influences are clear ie The Pirates and The Coasters on earlier songs but he can do a lot more than rock out in wild-eyed fashion, just like someone Wilk and I both look up to – The MC5’s Wayne Kramer….

Roxette was a classic Dr Feelgood opus – the early songs here are re-recorded by Johnson – and retains its whacking one-two-three stabbing tempo, slightly slower than the Dr F release. The backbeat still hints at reggae. At 1:20 a rasping harp bursts into the song ; She Does It Right really hammers at the beat, rocking out with abandon, dragging out the resolve. At 1:12 that wild twisting guitar hits you..exhilarating!

I Keep It To Myself has a lighter guitar touch, an insistent guitar figure after each line and wailing blues harp, all sung with such edge, too. Ice On The Motorway goes back to Solid Senders era and I always liked it. The stuttering intro has such purpose and the bass guitar tone is in your face, Wilko sings in his best accusatory voice. Back In The Night was a Dr F stage favourite and uses a swaggering tempo as the catchy chorus takes hold. Turned 21 gives hint of Wilko’s love of Dylan, reverbed vocal and all. It’s a measured folky song, so romantic. A real heartmelter for the ladies, lyrical guitar solo and all. Paradise is choppy, pulsing rock’n’roll and a nod to the great Bo Diddley. The middle eight is fluid and no less emphatic.

Barbed Wire Blues is pulsing power, Wilko tells of a fortune teller as the rhythm section bubbles away. A crisp riff holds it all together. The mighty cut Dr Dupree is up next. Quite an exotic number, hard reggae used as the backdrop whilst the story of the strange medic unfolds. One of Wilk’s best creations imho and when I told him so, he did not disagree. A drummer’s dream, this one. Sneaking Suspicion was the last Dr F album to feature Johnson. It chugs along cheerfully but is a story of mistrust. Living In The Heart Of Love is a brisk rocker, an apocalyptic lyric, a backing vocal phrase or two and doesn’t let up for a minute. Some Kind Of Hero bounces us to the end of Disc One and for me there is something of the late Gene Vincent about it.

Second disc now and lead selection Twenty Yards Behind with its thick bluesy chug and puffy harp, try not singing along! Out In The Traffic cuts in on elastic boogie riff, the chords flick out at you in a steady jagged pattern. When was there a song in the general Charts with anything like this kind of intent ? Cairo Blues is an upbeat mid-tempo rocker, city music for sure. The Hook has a Chess label rickety guitar motif and reedy harp. Keep On Loving You is altogether funkier, almost Swamp Dogg, but for the Wilko pipes. All Right gallops along with dense chording and a vocal that recalls John Hammond in delivery.

When I’m Gone cops a cyclic and hypnotic figure and busy bass. Again, strangely catchy. Come Back And Love Me is – comparatively – laid back, with a sunshine melody more like The Lovin’ Spoonful in vibe and very nice too. She’s Good Like That gives us more choppy vamping and piano back in the mix. The Beautiful Madrilena has a quasi-Spector beat and trad rock’n’roll progression, Drifters-style and all part of Johnson’s ambit. Underneath Orion has rich guitar tones and Dylan-ish vocal and I so love this one. Down By The Waterside mines the Bo strut and what great drumming yet again. Distinctively Wilko and slightly spooky, reference to poison flowers et al. I Really Love Your Rock’n’Roll sees us out on a lively, frantic rhythm.

An excellent overview of this king rocker’s styles and guitar mastery.

Pete Sargeant

(Many thanks to Stuart Kirkham for help with this review)



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Wilko Johnson ‘Keep It To Myself’ – The Best of Wilko Johnson is out now on Chess/UMC.

Wilko Johnson Band play their 30th Anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 26th September 2017.

24 HR Box Office – 0844 478 0898

Book Tickets online – www.thegigcartel.com

Wilko celebrates his 70th birthday on Wednesday 12th July 2017

For more information visit his official website here: http://bit.ly/2qskh7E

Wilko Johnson