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The Johnson Family Band – Photo Credit: Alyssa Michener
Know Wisdom, the new EP from Baltimore’s The Johnson Family Band, is releasing today and Big Takeover is pleased to host its premiere.
The record features a mix of Detroit-style late ’60s rock in a deep space musical exploration. Utilizing a solid rhythm section to keep every groove well in the pocket, the band allows vocalist Michal Roxie Johnson to explore many lyrical phrases and styles as she delivers a truly remarkable performance. Her singing on this release is nothing short of perfection as she takes center stage in our listening space with her dynamic range.
From the opening track, “Angel Walk,” we are gifted with a really funky walking bass line to set the stage, (compliments of bassist Steve Johnson). “Angel Walk” builds tension as it develops into a musical theme, and while this tension should typically be released within the first couple measures,The Johnson Family Band maintain this pressure throughout the piece, leaving listeners eager to get to the next track.
“Hurricane,” the third number from Know Wisdom showcases drummer/percussionist Kamyar Arsani, with his poignant time-keeping skills, syncopating the downbeat on the hats while giving us a very sharp, and deliberate snare snap which gets listeners’ attention and pushes them to the dance floor. This vibrant beat carries throughout the track giving expression to the many ways guitarist Joan Sullivan explores the available phrases.
Standout song “Round And Round” features a shift from the four-piece sound we have settled in for by giving us a mature and well-fitted keyboard/synth accompaniment. The vocals, still well in the forefront, are expertly joined by the staccato type pulses from the keys as the surrounding instrumentation fits the subject matter of the song.
The effective use of clever metaphor throughout Know Wisdom offers imagery and illustration to the larger-than-life subject matters the Johnson Family Band looks to explore. The production on the EP is mature and professional.
This nod to the nostalgic ’60s soul and disco genres coupled with contemporary musical styling blends exquisitely across the range of tunes, blending old-school and new for an exciting and engaging record to set on repeat.
The band kindly partook in our Q&A interview as well:
How does Motown influence your sound? There is obviously a lot of ’60s soul on your new LP.
“The earliest Motown recordings were made in a basement with a dirt floor. Like most session musicians in the 60’s, the Motown crew only had a few hours to take an Ivy Jo Hunter song or a Smokey Robinson hook and build a hit single out of it. Those constraints compelled them to trust their instincts, sharpen their technique and to avoid gimmicks, exorbitant complexity and general bullshit. As such, they crafted a language of rhythm that strikes with grace and power, whose resonance will still shake your ass today. The Stooges definitely heard that siren call and spoke in those tongues to blast off into total freedom. That’s definitely a band fascination. This whole Motown basement approach is precisely how TJFB builds our songs. Our singer, Roxie, comes to the band with a hook, and the three of us act in service of the song. Even just over the past decade you can see that musician-hood has become intensely consumerist; huge pedalboards with $300 delays are the norm now and, if you’ll pardon the totally contrarian opinion, that’s not what this band is about. We’re about the technique, the focus and the poetry. If it wasn’t for the Funk Brothers then you might have never heard the Miracles.”
What is the Baltimore music scene like and is it bouncing back from COVID?
“Waves crest, pages turn. Music in Baltimore has never not been eventful from post-Lungfish rowdiness to the Thrill Jockey era to the early 2010’s age of a thousand venues to the rise of the Crown to the wave of upturned freak folk that Plake 64 & the Hexagrams induced and right up until now. The city also has a vibrant experimental music community that overlaps with the rock and hip hop crowd too. Our High Zero festival annually brings musicians from all over the world to Baltimore and has been for over twenty years. We’re at something of a nadir/nexus these days: Period Bomb came to town a couple years back and threw a bucket of paint at everything by booking a zillion shows a week and making us an essential touring stop for a whole different crop of musicians. But they are moving on. Trouble in Mind put out a couple of 2020’s best albums and they just dropped awesome LPs by two established Baltimore bands: Smoke Bellow and Dummy. Pearl’s LP is pretty spectacular. Blk Vapor has a fighting chance at being the future of music around here. Our punk rock community is still rolling- there was a great generator show the other night at the skatepark in the neighborhood where we practice. And whats more punk than a feminist/queer/trans- fronted band, Santa Librada, crooning about love, sex and the surveillance state. Baltimore has all of that, and more.”
“As for COVID, we’re about as active as we were before, just from going by the show blogs. Everyone got their album of ambient music out of their system a year ago and we’ve since found safe ways to operate weirdly. Musicians here tend to be very socially conscious, mostly. We’re pretty resilient. If you live here, you kinda have to be.”
What is next for the band, any shows scheduled for the rest of the year or going into 2022?
“TJFB moves in one direction, which is to say, forward. We’re working on writing our next album and we’ve got a couple collaborators in mind. Our next show is on 12/11 in Baltimore. From our first practice, we’ve had a pretty healthy capacity for jamming and on-the-spot songwriting. We wrote Know Wisdom’s first single, “Hurricane”, in ten minutes. We’ll get it done soon.”