The first thing that strikes you about the music on this retrospective is the attitude: it’s loud, aggressive and pugnacious, bristling with a fierce, rambunctious energy that is encapsulated in Wilko Johnson’s astringent, scything, and sometimes brutal, but always arresting, guitar work. No wonder some commentators see the 69-year-old, cancer-surviving fretboardist and National Treasure as the missing link between rhythm and blues and punk rock. It was that very same energy that infused the music of legendary Canvey Island R&B band Dr. Feelgood in the mid-’70s. Wilko, of course, was a founder member of that illustrious and highly influential quartet, and though he quit the band exactly forty years ago, their repertoire – which, as their principal songwriter, he helped to create – remains an important component of who and what he is.
Indeed, you will find some sterling revisits of classic Feelgood numbers on this superlative 25-track/2-CD anthology of Wilko’s solo years, including such enduring classics as ‘Roxette,’ ‘Sneaking Suspicion,’ ‘She Does It Right,’ ‘Back In The Night,’ and ‘Down By The Waterside.’ Wilko brought a similar attitude to his own work, as evidenced by the pulsating road songs, ‘Out In The Traffic,’ which is a cranked-up slice of driving rhythm and blues propelled by heavy riffage, and ‘Ice On The Motorway.’ Aided by long-time confreres, bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe, Wilko serves up a piquant platter of raw, visceral and earthy rhythm and blues. ‘The Hook’ – complete with blues-drenched harmonica wails – is another standout, along with ‘Barbed Wire Blues’ – delivered with deadpan sardonic wit – and a frenetic, adrenalin-pumping retooling of Dr. Feelgood’s ‘Paradise.’
It’s not all full-throttle R&B, though, as the more reflective ‘The Beautiful Madrilena,’ – which is infused with an Hispanic tinge – ‘Living In The Heart Of Love,’ and poignant, almost pastoral, ‘Turned 21,’ illustrate. But searing, turbo-charged rhythm and blues is Wilko Johnson’s calling card and on that score, this stupendous collection doesn’t disappoint. Turn the volume up all the way to eleven.
Past Wilko Johnson reviews: