Hot Fish Laundry Mat – King Johnson
Landslide Records 1028
Atlanta-based outfit King Johnson is little bit of this and a little bit of
that. Combining blues, jazz, rock, country, a dash of funk, with some New
Orleans soul and altogether wrapped in a genuine Southern sound, their
latest album, Hot Fish Laundry Mat, is chock-full of quality
songwriting and spirited performances.
The band's sound is best summed up in
"Adultcontemporaryrootsrockbluesjazzfunk," a song which successfully
incorporates all of the styles in its title, although I dont really know
what makes the song "adult contemporary." Perhaps the genre is a bit more
broad in Atlanta, but I'd like to give King Johnson a little more credit
than John Tesh. Regardless, this tune bops along much in the same vein as
that of The Funky Meters. "Adultcontemporaryrootsrockbluesjazzfunk" bounces
in a laid-back danceable groove, interspersed with a nice call-and-response
passage between guitarist Oliver Wood and the horn section.
"One More Day" combines classic Southern back-porch acoustic delta blues
with a traditional New Orleans tuba covering the bass. A nice layer is
added with Marcus James dropping in gently wailing clarinet lines that lead
the shuffling ballad to its easygoing conclusion.
The most unique song on Hot Fish Laundry Mat is the countrified
boogie of "When." Starting like a cross between Phish's "Sparkle" and the
traditional "Froggy Went A-Courtin'," the lyrics tell the tale of a typical
lonesome country ballad. However, the vibe quickly changes when the tune
suddenly drops into an unexpected refrain of O70s funkiness, taking
advantage of Jeff Smiths twanging jaw harp. The shift is improbable, but
King Johnson makes surprisingly smooth transitions and bounces between the
two disparate genres with tremendous ease.
The most intricate track on this album is "Stop and Start All Over Again."
Beginning with mellow rhythms and a crisp horn lick, more instrumentalists
join in the fray and after the addition of some raspy vocals, the song
quickly transforms into a nice slice of Southern soul. The nimble and
percolating rhythms of drummer Greg Baba and percussionist Chris Uhler
create a nice contrast to the lazy loping sounds delivered by the rest of
the band. The resulting composition is quite infectious, and by the time
saxophonist Marcus James delivers a sultry solo, the listener is hooked.
In truth, it's hard to avoid being hooked by King Johnson's songs. The
well-written charts make the music on this disc inherently enjoyable, and
with so many diverse styles covered, Hot Fish Laundry Mat should
certainly appeal to fans of Widespread Panic, Galactic, the Allman Brothers,
Taj Mahal, and many others.
They are finely-crafted slices of soul that are undeniably catchy. However,
nothing on this album is tremendously daring. With so many styles combining
in one stew, the listener never gets to fully enjoy the depth of one
specific ingredient. The result is a tasty dish that appeals to a broad
palette but fails to challenge the senses. The band isn't afraid to stick
their toes in many different parts of the musical ocean, but they are rarely
willing to go more than ankle-deep. King Johnson easily stuffs the
envelope, but they never get around to pushing it.