Early in 2013, Wilko Johnson received the news that he had terminal pancreatic cancer and had maybe ten months to live. Instead of whiling away his final days, Johnson set out on a final tour and, finding himself still standing at the end of it, received an invitation from Who singer Roger Daltrey to go into the studio and record an album of whatever songs the guitarist wanted. Wilko had a few new originals, plus the idea to cover Bob Dylan's "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window," but he mainly stuck to the Dr. Feelgood songbook: the hard R&B and rock & roll songs he wrote and recorded in the '70s that continued to resonate decades later. Supported by his touring band, Johnson entered the studio with Daltrey and knocked out Going Back Home in a week, just like the Feelgoods and the Who did back in the old days. That twin connection is important, as Going Back Home isn't merely a return to Wilko's roots, it's a homecoming for Daltrey as well, marking the first time in decades that he's sung such tough, blues-based, three-chord rock & roll. It may seem that a generation separates the two rockers -- Johnson's first album with Dr. Feelgood, 1975's Down by the Jetty, appeared nearly a decade after the Who's 1965 debut Sing My Generation -- but the singer is only four years older than the guitarist, so they share many core American blues and R&B influences, speaking a common language from a different perspective. Both musicians are notably older than they were back then -- Daltrey doesn't bother reaching for the high notes and Johnson's playing isn't as manic as it was during the Feelgoods -- but that's what makes Going Back Home special: neither are bothering to hide their age, nor are they desperately attempting to recapture their youth, they're reconnecting to their roots and seizing the present. Johnson penned the handful of originals not long after receiving his terminal diagnosis, but there isn't a shred of self-pity or sadness here. He's making noise while he still can, and Daltrey matches Wilko's abandon, sounding liberated to be singing songs that aren't racked with Pete Townshend's self-doubt. Roger's lower register is gruff, wearing the scars and weight of his years, while Wilko's guitar slices, pushing and accelerating the beat with alternating precision and recklessness. In the other, each musician has found a sparring partner who rivals their famed original partner: Daltrey has the gravity and menace of Lee Brilleaux and Johnson hits back with the savagery of Townshend. It's tough stuff but it's also enthusiastic, infectious fun, a record of three-minute songs that blazes by in just over a half-hour. That velocity is crucial to the creation of Going Back Home; it was made with the realization that the clock was about to run out, that Wilko Johnson might not live to see its release. That rawness also makes it a fitting coda to not only his career but also to Daltrey's: by finding sustenance in the music they originally loved, they've made a testament to the enduring power of music and how it enriches and strengthens a life.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine