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Street Sounds: Dr. Feelgood guitarist gives a rockin’ goodbye
Two of England’s rock institutions have paired up to send one of them off to his grave with some righteous old school maximum R&B.
Guitarist/songwriter Wilko Johnson, formerly of proto-punk pub rockers Dr. Feelgood, and Roger Daltrey (The Who) put a band of friends and A-list rockers together (Norman Watt-Roy, Dylan Howe, Mick Talbot) to record the one-off album, Going Back Home.
The album is an unsubtle blast in the face of rollicking R&B made up of Johnson’s back catalogue and Daltrey’s favourites.
Johnson, diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2013, decided to go out rocking. And here he is.
The album is a consistent pulse of party rock, driven by Johnson’s in-your-face guitar style; he’s a rhythmic powerhouse whose chops are rooted in chordal attack as they stride over the beat. It’s a sound rarely heard - a clean strum that defines the song.
Daltrey, no stranger to iconic heavy players, basks in the role of bluesy voiced foil in this happy hearted salute to a rocker’s career (and life).
Ice on the Motorway and I Keep it to Myself have a punch that has roots in the primordial British rock and roll smash, Shakin’ All Over. The same propulsive groove dominates much of Going Back Home.
The album is unflagging in its simplicity: bare bones production, tight ensemble playing, off-the- floor takes and the elusive capturing of good times and energy. They went for that and nailed it. The simplicity of approach allows the band and Daltrey to cast thought aside and bask in the moment, so the energy is focused. Daltrey’s epic Who’s Next scream has evolved into a blunt-edged growl – the power’s still there but held way in check.
It’s simple music and what steps it up is the stamp of personality the musicians impart and the solidity of power. There’s spirit and cajones. All Through the City is a primer in clean, straight forward rocking – it’s so propulsive that it floats.
The only departure from the R&B /rock attack is a joyful cover of Dylan’s Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window, a surprising choice that sounds logical in hindsight.
Johnson, Daltrey and company sound youthful and committed. These end-of-the-line celebrations embody a refreshing defiance and acceptance of fate at the same time. It’s a farewell party hosted by the angular guitar of Wilko Johnson: “I’m dying? Let’s rock!”
– Dean Gordon-Smith is Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases for The Morning Star every Friday.