Veteran mandolinist/singer/songwriter Russell Johnson has as distinct a voice as any in bluegrass, forceful, clear, and piercing. That voice is fully on display, along with his considerable songwriting ability and mandolin skills on this his first solo project—a varied, tuneful, and welcome collection of twelve songs and one instrumental.
Seven of those thirteen are his own (or co-written) originals, including the opener, “Anytime, Anyplace, But Only You,” a song that simply exudes ear-catching quality all through. Openers scarcely come any better. Taken at a brisk pace, the track has a breezy, joyful sense about it, with Johnson laying out a virtual laundry list of what he’d do or where he’d go just to be with the object of his affection. Name the time or place, he’ll be there. Following it with a cover of Paul Williams’s Monroe-like “My Brown-Eyed Darlin” makes for a powerful one-two start.
Almost as good as “Anytime…” are his “It’s My Heart,” “I Need To Know,” and “Together Forever.” All three are of the slow, country variety, the first focused on love’s ending, love’s confusion, and love’s positives. The first two, being more emotional subject-wise, make the best use of Johnson’s vocal power, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Johnson then turns to covers, four being drawn from the pop music world and here given bluegrass treatments. Johnson’s high vocal range and his ability to sing smooth proves a plus. Be it the “This Love” (by the group Maroon 5) or the tribute to the “Strength Of A Woman” (by Shaggy) or the wonderful latin-tinged “Sway” (a hit for Dean Martin), his voice is adaptable and convincing.
Backed superbly by 19 musicians, including one track with New Vintage and one with the Grass Cats, Anytime, Anyplace, But Only You is a successful, entertaining set of songs. (New Time Records, 4262 Old School Rd., Four Oaks, NC 27524, www.newtimerecords.com.) BW