REVIEW: Johnny Nicholas’ “Mistaken Identity” is Instant Familiarity and Mystique


Johnny Nicholas has created a new album that has all the instant familiarity of real American life while having a mystique that is difficult to put your finger on. The cover of the album features a black and white image of Nicholas standing on the front porch of an old weathered house that has seen better days. The house appears to be abandoned with vines pushing their way inside and the paint stripped away. The heavily worn wood is exposed like the wood under the scuffed lacquer on an old guitar being played by a lonesome musician who’s baring their soul to a smoky bar full of half drunken strangers. However, just one look tells you that this old house has seen a lot of life. If it could talk, it might tell stories in the same tone and character as Johnny Nicholas’ new album produced by Joel Savoy, Mistaken Identity (Valcour Records).

These songs overflow with the sound of experience. The album sounds clear as day and does not feel overproduced or overthought in the best way possible. Nicholas projects an authenticity that is hard to define but is immediately recognizable as coming from a man who knows his way around a song and how to lead a band. It takes a lot of sand to sing about the hard-learned lessons of life and displays an amount of grit that should not be taken lightly. Nicholas does this while seamlessly mixing together a spicy gumbo of musical styles and instrumentation that is quintessential Americana.

If one were to describe the Johnny Nicholas sound on this album, imagine combining the character in Watermelon Slim’s voice with the deep songwriting of John Hiatt, dropped in a bucket with that old blues singer whose name is just on the tip of your tongue.

With songs like “Mistaken Identity,” “The Mule and the Devil,” “She Stole My Mojo” and “Spark to a Flame,” the listener will be transported to experience a wide pallet of American Roots Music distilled down to the lightning in a bottle that is this album.

From New Orleans on a swampy piano to Memphis on a resonator guitar with a funky ride on the rock-solid rhythm section to vocals that soar across the plains of Texas and everything in between. Johnny Nicholas does all of this in a serious way but does not shy away from humor or the vivid imagery of a party in a late-night honky tonk.

Nicholas said, “this album is a homecoming…”, and that’s what it feels like. If you’re stuck in a faraway land longing for the sound of the American experience, Johnny Nicholas’ new album Mistaken Identity is like coming home.

The band is Johnny Nicholas on vocals, acoustic, electric and resonator guitars, piano, harmonica, and mandocello;
Scrappy Jud Newcomb on acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin and vocals; Chris Maresh on electric and upright bass and vocals; John Chipman on drums, percussion, Kurdish frame drum and vocals. Additional contributions from Max Baco on Bajo Sexto; Josh Baca on accordion; Chris Stafford on organ; Eric Adcock on clavinet; Kelli Jones on vocals and tambourine; and Sabra Guzman, Kelley Mickwee, Alice Spencer, Walt Wilkins and Bill Small on vocals.

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