Great Vibrations from Johnny Casino
Vibrations, yours and mine - Johnny Casino (La Vila Nova/Beluga Records/Golden Robot)
With the world turning to shit in every sense of the term, what's a poor boy to do other than play in a rock and roll band? The answer, in strange times of social distancing, is to record an album solo and pare the songs right back to resemble what they were like when first written.
Plenty will testify that going naked in front of a microphone is harder than it sounds - even with very few people watching. Johnny Casino's "Vibrations, yours and mine" was recorded in a modest Spanish studio in four hours, with some pedal steel and backing vocals overdubbed later courtesy of Hendrik Rover (Los Deltonos).
It was done pre-COVID but serves as a good template for how to go about things - which is with loads of emotional investment, a good deal of spontaneity and, importantly, heart.
"Vibrations..." is the polar opposite of what Johnny Casino has done, and does, in bands like Johnny Casino & The Secrets and Asteroid B612, but reflects the reality of eking out a living as a musician in Europe where going solo in small cafes and bars is de rigueur.
There are just four originals on "Vibrations..." with one of them, "Hit the Ground Running", reprised from "Time and Time Again" but significantly re-worked. "Cerca Pero Tan Lejos" is a gorgeous instrumental, a tribute to much-missed Sydney venue booker and great friend to many of us, Sue Telfer. "Postcards" is sentimental yet never cloying, and "Tears in a Town She Calls Home" is dripping with wistful longing.
You may question why a record is so heavy on covers (7 out of 11) but that'd miss the point. Johnny's a fan of songs and the genre someone's pegged to their back isn't important. It's what enables him to nail such a diverse array, and it's the same approach that's enabled Ed Kuepper to keep re-inventing himself. .
The New Christs' "Dropping Like Flies" is tackled incredibly well with the original's heavy blues spite replaced by stark resignation. Chris Bailey's "Ghost Ships" hit single takes on fresh poignancy with keening pedal steel substituting for rock crunch. Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" and Glen Campbell's (via Jimmy Webb) "Wichita Lineman" is an ace song pairing and each is approached with equal parts admiration and care.
Bill Fay's "I Heard You Calling" could easily be mistaken for an original in the context of the album's sound. Songs by Dan Auerbach and Dan Hicks (of San Francisco's Charlatans) receive similar treatment.
But for the Plague, we would have been seeing these songs and plenty others being played live in Australia by Johnny and a band. Solo takes on them will have to do for now. "Vibrations, yours and mine" is out on August 21 on LP (Beluga Records), CD (Golden Robot) and digital (La Vila Nova.) Pre-order here.