The blues means many things to many people. To some, the purists, it is the scratchy honesty of Robert Johnson with his devil-fueled fretwork. To others, it is the rock n roll that he influenced, be it Cream, The Stones, or early Fleetwood Mac. When Five Horse Johnson formed back in 1995, referring to itself as a blues band, a few brows might well have been furrowed. However, this is a band that has always understood that the blues isn t a formula, but a way of looking at the world; their take on the blues is a dirty, sensual thing enhanced with a healthy dose of humor. FHJ is now 17 years and six albums into its career, with a seventh about to drop. The band has dug a niche of its own, combining a love and respect for traditional blues and classic rock to become one of the most loved and respected bands in the stoner rock community.Released in January 2013, The Taking of Black Heart literally sees retro-rock survivors Five Horse Johnson “galloping” back into action — or at least that’s the rhythmic feel of the album’s opening number, “The Job,” the image gracing its cover art, etc. Given all they’ve been through (none of it more traumatizing than frontman Eric Oblander suffering a stroke!), few would expect the group to come riding in to rescue classic rock from a fate worse than death (irrelevance), especially some six years removed from their last long-player’s release. But as song after song rolls by, oftentimes driven by bluesier and rootsier songwriting ethics than 5HJ’s ever displayed before, hope does spring eternal — amen, bruvvers and sistahs, alright. Wailing harmonica and slippery slide guitars wrap themselves round and round laid-back groovers (“Keep on Diggin’,” “Smash & Grab,” “Die in the River”) and foot-stomping bruisers alike (“Black Heart Baby,” “Shoot My Way Out”), thereby luring patrons left and right into 5HJ’s juke joint — and the first shot of canned heat is on them. Heck, and if any additional credibility were needed, get a load of Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander taking over the mike stand for the album’s funkiest, most euphoric moment in “You’re My Girl” — Otis Redding surely would approve. Perhaps more than any other track, the latter also highlights Five Horse Johnson’s enduring faith and pure joy in playing rock & roll, regardless of how many paying customers show up on any given night. They’re a band’s band, at the end of the day: playing to play — and The Taking of Black Heart is therefore a welcome return, bringing good news to the rock & roll faithful everywhere.
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