Big Head Blues Club

100 Years of Robert Johnson

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The Robert Johnson tribute album is nearly a rite of passage, a way to signal your deep love and understanding of the blues. Certainly, when Eric Clapton cuts a record of Johnson, it signals his roots -- and when Todd Rundgren dabbles, it smacks of a prank -- but when Big Head Todd & the Monsters do a centennial celebration of the legend, it feels something like a bid for credibility. To that end, the group has some heavy-hitters in its corner, with cameos by the legends B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Charlie Musselwhite, and Honeyboy Edwards lending this a blues authenticity that the group never quite managed previously, but 100 Years of Robert Johnson isn’t anchored with a blues beat; it swings with some supper club soul-jazz and just a hint of clean popping funk, everything relaxed enough to allow for some solos that never last long enough to lose a listener’s attention. There’s not a lot of grit here, not even when the Big Head Blues Club strips down to acoustic guitars for “Kind Hearted Woman” or “All My Love’s in Vain,” and if there is no trace of a haunted soul in Todd Park Mohr’s vocals -- something that does hamstring “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day” and “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” -- his singing suits the smooth, easy spirit of the sessions, one where the songs are an excuse to jam, not a reason to dig into the depths of a soul.

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