2015 Washington Area Music Award Winner for "Debut Recording" and "Roots Rock Recording"
East Coast Sound CD Review:
Johnny Neel has done it again! This time around Johnny collaborates with blues veterans Tommy Lepson on keys and vocals and guitarist Dave Chappell (pronounced chapel, not like the comedian).
The title track, East Coast Sound, is a funky piece that sounds like a cross between classic Sly & The Family Stone and the contemporary Bruno Mars/Ronson song Uptown Funk.
They then take us through a classic blues number, Basket Case (since I lost you) with some great harp playing. I love it when Johnny sings the line “That’s how I roll”!
Track 3 takes it down for a heartfelt tribute to the late BB King, where Johnny sings “Another 6-stringer is heaven-bound.”
The next track, Make You Strong has some great street-smart lyrics. With lessons learned about drinking, fighting and women all making you stronger (if they don’t kill ya first).
Last Train (to Nowhere) has some strong vocals by Tommy, and tasty slide from Dave. The track has a blistering double time boogie ending.
Then the boys break out a cover of How It Rained by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper, with some great stand-up bass. This song is very soulful and sounds like Robert Cray.
Track 7 is one of my favorites with its life lessons about the aches and pains of growing old. This tune has that Delbert McClinton “Shaky Ground” feel, who Johnny has written many songs with throughout their careers. The sax and horns are reminiscent of the theme from the 70’s TV show, Fish.
The next song, time to pull out my Trick Bag, is a catchy number where the boys impart more of their street wisdom. Trick Bag is a reference. It’s a motivational expression saying it’s time to get off the couch and stir things up. Don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring.
Track 9 is a number that paints a picture in your mind of a lonely streetlamp lit street corner somewhere, it kinda has a Gary Moore feel. The sultry slow blues are the perfect backdrop for Johnny and Tommy’s tenured voices. These guys are blues masters and to hear them tag team these vocals makes this a classic performance.
Nothin’ Without You is a good vibe tune with a bit of Zydeco flair! Instead of heartbreak, Johnny gives us that rare positive love song.
That’s the Liquor Talking is good lesson with a fun groove. Johnny sings “If ya can’t hold your own, it’s time to go home”.
Track 12, Still Coming Down, takes it down a notch for an awesome vocal performance by Tommy. He sings from the heart and the emotion just pours out of him! The guitar lick has a great melody to it which makes it sound hauntingly familiar to the listener.
The album closes with Snake Charmer. I love the conga and percussion on this one; it evokes a Middle Eastern groove. On the guitar solo Dave plays a tease reminiscent of Devil Woman by Cliff Richard.
This is a great disc by some seasoned players! These guys really click together and have a natural cohesive sound. This is a timeless blues collection.
It’s a delight to present the first “leader” offering of one of the Washington area’s premier guitarists, Dave Chappell. Previously acclaimed as a superlative sideman, here he steps forward, surrounded by some talented veterans known for their wide range, but also their affection for what’s called roots rock, that amalgam of southern rhythm and blues, classic rockabilly, country and greasy swamp-funk.
I knew Dave had won his share of Washington Area Music Assn. (WAMA) awards, but what I didn’t know is that he won either Musician of the Year or best Roots Rock Instrumentalist (or both) for an astounding nine years in a row – 2005 to 2009.
On this album there are a few classics, all inspired, but most of the songs are original, written or co-written by Dave and Tommy Lepson. What I always get from Chappell’s playing is a certain wry impishness and a decided joie de vivre, qualities that for example the legendary jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli had in abundance. (Dave told me that these sessions were “always great fun, with a great deal of ‘Hey. let’s try this and see what happens’” interchanges.)
Stuff happened all right! For example, on the tune ‘Just Peachy,’ Dave said, “it all started as a simple riff we started tossing back and forth and evolved into an Allman-style extended jam -- and it was such a thrill to play with an Allman Brothers alumnus, Johnny Neel.”
Like his elders, Chappell learned to play a variety of styles and he appreciates a wide range of of music, anything and everything, from Mom and Pop standards to country classics to rhythm and blues. For the purpose of this first “leader” album, however, he has focused on the roots rock oeuvre. Smart move. I can’t wait for the next Chappell-chapter!
- Bill Holland is a long-time Washington area singer-songwriter and piano player. He was also Billboard Magazine’s Washington Bureau Chief.