REVIEW: Jeremiah Johnson’s “Heavens to Betsy” Has An Abundance of Style

Reviews

The St. Louis-based Jeremiah Johnson’s new 12-track kicks off with a good southern-fried track punctuated by some punchy sax (Frank Bauer) & Jeremiah’s roller-coaster lead guitar. “White Lightning,” has that tradition of Ohio’s J.D. Blackfoot (“The Ultimate Prophecy”) but lacks his dynamic commanding voice. But — Jeremiah has character & good tonality in his own bluesy lead vocal. I like it. Especially here.

Somewhat in a filtered Allman Brothers-Lynyrd Skynyrd blues-country tradition JJ definitely possesses his own signature sound. The Memphis, TN recorded Ruf Records LP Heavens To Betsy, (releases Feb. 28), & deserves to be on your shopping list.

Produced by Pete Matthews it’s a genuine generous dip back into Southern rock (Wet Willie, Black Oak Arkansas, Blackfoot). There’s nothing lacking in this modern-day take on this classic blue-collar genre.

Johnson’s blistering lead guitar penetrates, his vocals, different from classic Southern bands, is what makes his performance winning in 2020. This is not a memory lane trip.

The only criticism: cliched song titles. Nothing quite original. However, the music, & performances — indeed stellar. Johnson needs some original titles that’ll stick in the mind of fans as Jeremiah Johnson songs. Let’s face it you say, “Whipping Post,” you think Allman Brothers. “Free Bird,” & you think Lynyrd Skynyrd. “White Lightning” — I think of George Jones.

He needs to watch the clichés. The music’s too good to be weighed down. The majority of the songs are richly simple, yet tight. Johnson’s musical repertoire has an abundance of style.

“Forever and A Day,” is strong. The sax is prominent. That’s what makes it so compelling along with Johnson’s lead guitar. With a strain of warm melodies, crunchy twists – it makes his presentation winning ala grit, balls & it becomes quite affecting.

“American Steel,” is syncopated nicely & Jeremiah sings in a voice similar to 2 obscure wilder bands that also used brass to accentuate their tunes – Mutzie (“The Light of Your Shadow”) & an Australian band SCRA (Southern Contemporary Rock Assembly). They utilized female backup effectively with brass on “Midnight,” Atlantic Records’ (“The Ship Album”).

Johnson would benefit from these obscure elders. Keep adding their edgier appealing contemporary formula. Rather than just reproduce what had gone before. These old LPs had smoky tones & maybe they were ahead of their time. Jeremiah has this quality. There’s a beautifully heavy equation to this Southern rock that has tints of the soulful Muscle Shoals musicians.

“Showdown,” is absolutely delicious & the exceptional “Castles in the Air,” follows. Sax, drums, guitar & vocals — on target. But again, the titles are cliché. The Jeremiah Johnson brand needs to dominate the song titles. These present titles have been used endlessly.

The winning band also includes Tony Anthonis (Bass), Benet Schaeffer (Drums), Rick Steff (Keys), & Tony Antonelli (Percussion).

The 42-minute LP is available on his website: https://jeremiahjohnsonband.com/home

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