By Mike O’Cull
St. Louis-born roots music guitarist, singer and songwriter Jeremiah Johnson crosses genre lines and sounds amazing doing it on his new release Hi-Fi Drive By.
The record comes out October 21st, 2022 on Ruf Records and finds Johnson in career-best form, delivering ten tight new songs that succeed musically, lyrically, and instrumentally. He co-produced these tracks with St. Louis legends Tom Maloney and Paul Niehaus IV and recorded it with some of the finest players his hometown has to offer.
The mighty Victor Wainwright, a Blues Music Award winner and Grammy nominee, guests on piano, as does harmonica master Brandon Santini, a five-time BMA nominee, himself. The sound they all create blends blues, rock and roll, and swampy funk into a groove-covered surface that gives Johnson all he needs to take flight. His guitar playing, singing, and songwriting have never sounded better.
Jeremiah Johnson is a singular talent in a sea of imitators. Unlike many in the game, Johnson takes his inspiration where he finds it and lets the chips fall. His guitar skills are tastefully explosive, his vocals engaging and wise, and his writing is as good or better than anyone else working today. He’s hit the Billboard Blues charts five times with the albums GRIND (#8 November, 2015), Blues Heart Attack (#5 August, 2016), Straitjacket (#6 August, 2018), Heavens to Betsy (#1 April, 2020), and Unemployed Highly Annoyed (#4 November, 2020). He’s spent the last four years touring the USA and Europe supporting guitar man Mike Zito and as a headliner. Johnson is one of the most entertaining and listenable roots artists to emerge in recent times and, if you’re cool, you’re already in the know.
Hi-Fi Drive By gets rolling with the Chuck Berry-ish rock and roller “‘68 Coupe DeVille.” It’s a high-octane cut that will get any crowd on the road to a good time. Johnson’s vocals are bold, his guitar sweet, and Victor Wainwright’s piano licks are ferocious. It’s a big blast of good, clean fun and will quickly hook you into listening to the rest of the record.
“Ball And Chain” is a soulful gear shift into vintage R&B sounds and features another strong Johnson vocal take. The softer verses here let him show a different, more expressive side to his voice. The chorus kicks harder, strutting out of your speakers with a hip-shaking beat and upbeat attitude. Johnson layered this and the other songs on Hi-Fi Drive By with horns, backup singers, and percussion to achieve the fleshed-out vibe of a large band and you’ll catch every texture once you put your headphones on.
The uptown shuffle of “Skippin’ School” is a classic blues tune with a swinging pocket, smoking horns, and a Cadillac attitude. Johnson dials himself back a bit here to fit the song, playing some flavor-packed lines before finally turning up the heat. His vocal tone on it is smooth and lowdown, displaying yet another nuanced change.
“The Squeeze” is a simmering blues song that rapidly boils over into a heavier chorus. It’s a tune about a complicated love situation that just might not be worth the trouble anymore and Johnson tells his story so we can all relate to it. His guitar screams when he leans into it and his call-and-response powers are definitely strong.
Other prime movers on Hi-Fi Drive By include the Santana-influenced “Hot Blooded Love” and the deep cut “Quicksand.” Jeremiah Johnson remains dialed-in throughout every moment, turning in songs and solos that are going to get a lot of blues fans excited. Hi-Fi Drive By is the next evolution of Johnson’s style and career and is about to blow him up around the world. Don’t miss it.
Pre-order Hi-Fi Drive By Here
“Ball and Chain”