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Johnny Burgin — Ramblin’ From Coast to Coast

John Burgin

BAM! Whoosh! Instantly, you are in the thick of it.

 

Ramblin’ From Coast to Coast fires off as a rocket down Halsted Street. Launched by an opening drum crack, the runaway title track bolts out of the gate in a mad rush, already at a hard, quick gallop. A clearwater voice slings complaints about being jilted and, as a result, relying on miles upon miles of asphalt to help deaden the pain. Rollin’ and tumblin,’ you could say—right down to the central, swirling guitar riff that summons the spirit of Eddie “Big Town Playboy” Taylor. Old-school Chicago, in other words.

 

It is evident that Johnny Burgin has been itching to commit this romp—plus 11 more—to record. The singing guitarist’s 11th record, to be precise. But that count does not include any of his equally rowdy projects as an in-demand sideman around town, such as Tail Dragger’s Crawlin’ Kingsnake, Big Wheeler’s Bone Orchard or Jimmy Burns’ Leaving Here Walking. Billy Boy Arnold, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Dawkins, and slide phenom John Littlejohn were also among the laundry list of legends who served as his gateway into the scene and onto the stage. Johnny’s formative experience was vividly practical—aka, baptism by barroom fire.

 

In keeping with that spirit, the strict, ramrod cadence prodding along “I Need Something Sweet” gives way to a thorny solo worthy of Byther Smith, whose style always seemed to personify a hammer in search of a nail. (Burgin, of course, knew him, too.) “Fresno Woman” takes on added muscle from a bottlenecked guitar’s huge, full-bodied glisses. “Cincinnati Boogie” leaves behind a cloud of dust, kicked up from a piano’s spunk. “Older and Wiser” sweats out its solos with fevered tremolo strumming, echoing the bluster in Rae Gordon’s guest voice and the storyline’s ire. “I’m Playing Straight” affords the chance for two cameos: Burgin gets to blow some harp while vocalist John “Blues” Boyd wails his lines. And what clinches the deal that “Stepladder Blues” has to plaster a huge grin on Yank Rachell, up on high, is not its winking sexuality disguised (somewhat) by innuendo—but when Johnny starts stridently fanning guitar strings like a mandolin. (Yep, Johnny also gigged with ol’ Yank.)

 

The whole set testifies to Burgin’s creative approach to guitar: That its tones, attacks, licks and character come naturally steeped in decades of authenticity absorbed firsthand, while working elbow-to-elbow with kingpins. He’s a living library of techniques and tales, as likewise judged from the myriad of guitar lessons overflowing from his own YouTube channel. He’s a flamekeeper.

 

That ensures the stomp of “I Was Right the First Time” is as classic as it is back-alley. Giving someone the good-riddance heave-ho, Burgin even tosses in an impromptu howl for good measure. His backers, picking up on the need to churn this one, deepen their rhythmic pocket, reaching down into the dirty bottom end where blues work their damnedest. Good luck trying to remain still amidst all this surging motion.

 

From the sound of these 46 rumbling minutes, you’d bet Chicago’s classic songbook had been raided for some of its secret, unplumbed material. Truth be told, Burgin’s own backdated songcraft generated all but two of these straight-ahead, traditional blues. It's as if rock-and-roll never happened. And that makes an ideal diet to feed his vintage-hungry fretsmanship and band.

 

Your Wayback Machine awaits.

 

Label: Straight Shooter

Release Date: 4/19/24

Artist Website: johnnyburgin.com

 

Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski




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