Johnny Sansone The Lord Is Waiting the Devil Is Too (4*)

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Here's one firmly in the less is more school of record production. Recorded live in the studio, with a very basic lineup (Sansone on chromatic and diatonic harmonicas and vocals, producer Anders Osborne on guitar with Galactic drummer Stanton Moore pounding the skins), The Lord Is Waiting the Devil Is Too apparently comes in the wake of a broken marriage and delivers some of the best overdriven blues I’ve heard in quite a while.

The pattern’s set from the start of Sinking Ship , four minutes of impassioned vocals, great globs of overamped harp and a guitar riff that probably doesn’t move out of the red zone on the old VU meters. The harp-dominant instrumental Corn Whiskey repeats the formula, though with the guitar dropped down in the mix, and gives a thematic intro to the gritty vocal on Down , with its meet me at the bottom because that’s where I’m gone chorus, and the issues related to homelessness that get done over in the darkly moody Invisible, with the backing dropped right back and Sansone’s voice and harp front and centre.

The casual listener isn’t, of course, going to know how much real life is reflected in the lyrical content, but there’s no doubt what we've got here is the sound of a man howling his anger, despair and frustration and blowing the hell out of the harp to vent just a little bit more. The side men are locked right into the same mode, Moore’s drums pounding away in the introduction to Johnny And Janie, a tale of betrayal and love gone down the gurgler with Osborne rumbling away down below. 

Requests to Forget about You Know Who and questions like Where’s Your Heart? slot into that breakup scenario well, while The Lord Is Waiting the Devil Is Too comes across as a timely reminder that you need to make the right choice when decision time rolls around.

And since the protagonist has no intention of remaining in the vicinity Without Love, it seems fairly logical the final track should be titled Leavin’ and closes things out with a not quite slow drag instrumental. Last time around on my way out the door sort of territory.

In the wake of three and a half million well I woke up this mornings, the album serves as a timely reminder that heartache and inner turmoil were, after all, the wellsprings the blues came from. Sansone’s delivery, a gritty, stripped down, straight from the heart yowl of anguish, the stripped-down trio format Osborne apparently insisted on, and the live in the studio approach combine to deliver something that isn’t exactly easy listening but works just fine with the volume cranked and a therapeutic beverage at hand.

And the harp work, while it’s not quite Magic Dick on the lickin’ stick (the J. Geils Band’s harp man has long been Hughesy’s yardstick of harmonica virtuosity) is tasty enough to have me eyeing Sansone’s back catalogue, which definitely seems worth investigating.

© Ian Hughes 2012