Review: Wilko Johnson, Roger Daltrey rock on
Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey, "Going Back Home" (Chess)
Wilko Johnson, former guitarist of rabble-rousing 1970s British rockers Dr. Feelgood, is enjoying a bittersweet late-career surge.
Johnson's jagged playing and menacing stare helped give Dr. Feelgood's bluesy rock an infectious, raucous energy. The band was briefly a sensation and foreshadowed punk's anarchic spirit.
Then the group imploded and Johnson spent years as a cult hero, cherished by a tight coterie of fans.
Last year Johnson was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer; vowing to rock until the end, he set out on a farewell tour.
And finally the world is taking notice. There have been sold-out shows, a slot at this summer's Glastonbury Festival and now an album with Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who.
Inspired by a shared love of early British rockers like Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, "Going Back Home" is deliberately rough-edged and retro — even the label, Chess Records, is a heritage brand resurrected for the release.
Recorded in a week with producer Dave Eringa and Johnson's touring band, its 11 tracks include 10 Johnson compositions, from the Feelgood days through his solo career.
The title track sets the tone of robust, rocking R&B. Daltrey growls lustily over Johnson's choppy riffs and it's spiced with lashings of dirty harmonica from Steve Weston and galumphing piano from ex-Style Council keyboardist Mick Talbot.
Songs like "Keep it Out of Sight" and "All Through the City" have a swaggering energy and raw yearning. "Some Kind of Hero" is a meaty slice of the blues on the evergreen topic of a cheatin' woman, but the lyrical bravado is laced with British self-deprecation: "I wish I was some kind of hero."
The album's rough-hewn quality is less of an asset on a ballad like "Turned 21" or a cover of Bob Dylan's "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window."
"Going Back Home" is not going to win awards for innovation, but it's feisty fun and a rousing testament to a distinctive figure in British rock history.
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