CD Review by Thomas J. Cullen III
The World’s Blues Magazine
Aug/Sept 09 Issue 119
Donald Ray Johnson
Travelin’ Man is a self-produced set of soul-blues that demonstrates his mastery of the genre as he wraps his smooth tenor around a diverse set of covers and originals. Johnson cites Tyrone Davis, Little Milton, and Johnny Taylor as influences and pays homage to them with straightforward versions of “Sugar Daddy”, “If Walls Could Talk” and “Last Two Dollars” respectively.
The title track penned by Maurice John Vaughn, is a brassy midtempo shuffle with slithery slide guitar. It’s a perfect vehicle for Johnson, whose motto is “Have drum will travel.” The drinking lament “Me and Jack (Daniels)” feature Sonny Rhodes on lap steel. Both tunes would be right at home on an Elvin Bishop album, as would the churning swamp rock of Tony Joe White’s “Steamy Windows.” Another Johnson original “Apple Tree,” evokes the Ecko Records sound with its sparse instrumentation of keyboards, guitar, and programmed drums; Gib Monks’ savory sax licks break up the synthesized monotony. The treacly torch song “Always On My Mind” showcases Johnson’s versatility, but it sounds out of place and disrupts the album’s overall tone.
Johnson is a restrained vocalist who uses subtlety in lieu of emotional overstatement or sexual braggodacio. Despite a few questionable decisions, the unpretentious Travelin’ Man succeeds thanks to quality musicianship, sound production, and warm, supple vocals.