Singer/guitarist Lonnie Johnson was one of the most influential blues and jazz players of the 1920s and '30s. Among other things, his early blues sides for Okeh and Bluebird fired the imagination of the young Robert Johnson, and his single-note jazz lines predated Charlie Christian's own revolutionary single-note solos by a decade.
Louis Armstrong employed him; so did Duke Ellington. And the R&B ballad "Tomorrow Night," Johnson's smooth reworking of an old popular song, attracted the interest of the young Elvis Presley, who essentially re-created the musical polymath's original 1948 recording.
On this modest tribute CD, veteran Philadelphia guitarist Jef Lee Johnson (Ronald Shannon Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Common, etc.), whose own work in the funk, jazz and rock idioms deserves much more attention, adds all the soul, swing and musical invention that tunes as different as "St. Louis Blues," "Broken Levee Blues" and the downright dreamy "Tomorrow Night" require.
Blues Anatomy singer Eddie Davis, who handles most of the vocals, is also sensitive to Lonnie Johnson's legacy; his strong performances on both ballads and up-tempo tunes eschew the clichéd histrionics that mar many contemporary blues recordings. He sounds nothing like Johnson, who often employed a high tenor on both bawdy and more romantic material, but Davis does tap the spirit of this underappreciated giant of American music.