Fulltime Blues

Blues Music Review: Cathy Lemons and Johnny Ace - LemonAce - VizzTone Label Group 2010

Blues enthusiasts and performers Johnny Ace and Cathy Lemons have been together for more than a decade, now, and before that, spent time in various roles performing separately with a list of Blues royalty that includes John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Elvin Bishop, Pine Top Perkins, and many, many more. The two met in the 80's and began their relationship together in the mid-90's. The result was a fantastic collaboration "Cathy Lemons and Johnny Ace with Pierre Le Corre and Artie Chavez." The bass playing boy from New York and the songstress from Dallas celebrated the release of their VizzTone release, LemonAce earlier this year - a wonderful, beautiful, sonic film that bends the boundaries of genre description.

The album mixes Blues and classic Rock 'N' Roll to craft an album that is at the same time both retro and modern. It's also filled with stories, conversations, and a list of guests. "Brand New Day" is a fantastic opening number that sets the tone for the entire album. You realize quickly that you’re listening to something truly unique, and you can't wait to hear what lies ahead on the disc. Johnny Ace wrote the opener, and co-wrote two more songs with Cathy Lemons. The pair co-wrote a third song, "Shoot To Kill," along with guitarist Pierre Le Corre. Lemons and Le Corre co-wrote"I Got It," and Cathy wrote five of the album's tracks on her own. Out of the dozen songs, only two were written outside of the band: Baby Washington's "Move On," and "Gimme A Penny," written by Trudy Rhone & James Moore.

"Love Like A Fire," which was crafted into an amazingly trippy and entertaining music video, is a wonderful slice of 60's music created in the new millenium. Johnny Ace and Cathy Lemons sing the lyrics together, as Artie "Stix" Chavez pounds the drum kit behind them, and guest Kid Andersen toys with all manner of guitar effects. Le Corre plays rhythm guitar and a slide that gives a ghastly element to the song. Andersen plays lead guitar again on the hardcore Blues number "Get This Thing Off'a My Back," as well as rhythm guitar on a pair of tracks, and organ on "I'm Not the Woman I Used To Be." I love the lead-in to "Get This Thing Off'a My Back," where the band is seemingly warming up as Lemons hums along. The more I listen to this CD, the more I fall in love with her voice, which is velvety and hypnotic. It isn't specified anywhere in the disc's packaging, but the disc has a feel as though the band was all recorded in the studio together. If that isn't the case, the production team of Lemons, Ace, and Andersen certainly did a masterful job creating that element.

"Used To These Blues" features friend Tommy Castro playing a beautifully clean lead guitar, as he does a sort of call and response with Lemons vocals. Le Corre subtlely works the wah pedal on rhythm, and Johnny Ace's bass is much easier to single out and groove to than some of the other tunes. Simply a cool track. Tommy Castro also plays lead guitar on "When Bad Luck Looks Good," which also sees David Maxwell providing some terrific piano bangin'. Maxwell bests his piano playing on the follower, "Gimme A Penny," where Paul Oscher is also heard on the track laying down some absolutely killer harp. It's interesting to note that Oscher doesn't even come into the picture until nearly halfway through the song, when he provides a great solo. He then lays off until near the end of the song, coming back in to bring it home ever so gently.

"Sink Or Swim" kicks off with Johnny Ace explaining how the Blues has fallen off, but it's gonna come back. In reality, the message is applicable to anyone who's encountered hard times (a lot of folks over the last few years.) Johnny and Cathy sing about doing what it takes to make it. The last portion of the songs details an inspirational conversation that Johnny Ace had with his uncle, who ultimately said "it's either sink or swim." Amen.

The more than eight minute "Shoot To Kill" sees Ron Thompson playing some greasy lead slide, while Pierre Le Corre plays slide, as well. The arrangement provides Artie Chavez a real chance to shine on drums, which he capitalizes on very well. Often times, I will feel like a song drags on, regardless of if it's a song I enjoy or not. Conversely, I will often times think, I wish that song was a little longer or had another verse. The thing that I notice about the songs on LemonAce is that you never find yourself doing that when you listen to these tunes. Every song on the CD, whether it's the three minute opening number, or the album's longest track, ends organically when it needs to, and not a second before or after. It was a really cool realization, for me.

The stone cold Blueser "I'm Not the Woman I Used To Be" is a song I find myself coming back to often here lately. I really enjoy the tune, and Le Corre shreds throughout the guitar solo here. I mentioned Anderson playing organ on this number earlier, and the job he does is worth mentioning it again. This is followed by the rocking "Stay," where the band as a whole really kicks it into high gear and gets a little heavy, too.

LemonAce closes with the story song "Move On," which features a fun combination of Johnny Ace setting up the story over the first half of the tune, then Cathy Lemons singing the remainder of the tale over the last half. The song conjures up images of hot-rods and 50's greasers sprung to life from the pages of a comic book. It does a really excellent job playing to the theater of the mind. The album, as a whole, is a real joy to listen to, and I think Cathy and Johnny, along with the help of their band and some great friends, crafted one of the coolest records of 2010. Having not had much prior knowledge about the pair before getting my copy of LemonAce, I can say that I will highly look forward to future releases from them, and I will certainly continue to enjoy this disc well into the future. I had heard of Johnny prior to the CD, but mainly because of his articles in Blues magazines. I have a great respect for his and Cathy's love of this music, and their many efforts to keep it alive.

STANDOUT TRACKS: They're all killer, especially "Shoot To Kill," "I'm Not the Woman I Used To Be," and "Move On."

By Johnny Fulltime—10/24/2010