Rogue Johnsen Project – 20/20
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Rogue Johnsen Project – 20/20

Self-produced CD

13 songs – 52 minutes

Rogue Johnsen is based in the southwest suburbs of Washington, DC, has been a sideman for years, but on this disc serves an original set of blues, jazz, rock and southern soul and delivers an atmospheric-fired instrumental piece reminiscent of Jimmy Smith, the B3 master who revolutionized music in the 1950s with his epic run at Blue Note Records.

Johnsen's background includes long service with three giants of Texas music: guitarist W.C. Clark, singer Miss Lavelle White and Archie Bell & the Drells, whose song "Tighten Up" topped the Billboard charts in 1968, as well as Bo Diddley, Larry Davis, Johnny Adams, Norton Buffalo and others.

A resident of West Springfield, Virginia, he is the only student ever accepted by the great Charles Brown, the man who wrote the Drifting Blues and Merry Christmas Baby standards. And he also studied with jazz master Chuck Israels (Bill Evans Trio) and guitarist Ron Thompson (John Lee Hooker).

Johnsen's self-proclaimed trio was named Band of the Year by the D.C. Blues Society awarded. This appears to be his third self-produced release – after Way Back and Trouble Blues. He is accompanied here by guitarist Mike Dutton, bassist Dean Dalton (Tom Principato), drummer Joe Wells and percussionist Jeff Covert, all veterans of the area's music scene.

As the album title suggests, they recorded this during the COVID-19 shutdown – with the intention of producing new music that carries on the little blues and jazz sounds of the 60s and 70s. It was recorded between February and November 2020 at Wally Cleaver's studio in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and according to the opening notes, is a sweeping success.

Duttons guitar sets the tone when he opens the Loping "Wally Cleaver’s Shuffle", before Rogue soft accompaniment before the duo exchanges electrifying solos throughout. The leisurely “Project 9B” may remind the listener of the soundtrack of the 60s spaghetti westerns, before the minor tuned “Tired of Winning” starts with a short bass lead and Johnsen follows with riffs that make Smith smile would.

The ballad "Just Before Sleep" – which is built on a simple hook – soothes and then flows into the leisurely funk, "Stax Tracking", a tip of the label's Fedora that dominated the 60s before the action dies down to a whisper for the sweet, jazzy “They Don't Know”. The swinging shuffle “Big Bright City” heats things up right away and builds tension while never losing control before giving in to the zippy rocker “A Long Ways Away” that has an early 60s vibe.

“Downtime”, a molasses-slow blues, shows Rogue's skill when Brown returns to life through his fingers before the rapid-fire stop-time barrelhouse number “Goin‘ Rogue ”throws another log into the fire. Three other favors – "Just A Minor Blues", "New Blue Soul" and "Monkey Tumble Too" – close the 53-minute set.

Available from Amazon or directly from the band (address above), aim for 20/20. Unlike the year itself, this album will hit a pleasant nerve for anyone who loves old school instrumentals and deep grooves.

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