Neil Gregory Johnson – Extended Play Catalogue Vol. 1 – EP Review
In almost the same breath as explaining his new Extended Play Catalogue Vo1. 1 EP was a ‘labor of love’ – if you read that same posting with the story behind the journey towards this record, it really does kind of sound like everything Neil Gregory Johnson needed to make his music work just kind of started to fall into place from the moment he decided it was what he wanted to do officially. I’m paraphrasing here, but more or less the story goes that on July 8th (presumably of last year), he woke up and just decided just make it happen as a musician…makes an entire THREE phone calls, gets hooked up with Sean Flora (Cake, The Shins, Black Keys), Kickstarter’s himself into the studio after a successful campaign in only THREE days-time…and then…well…more or less, we’re right where we are now? I added the question mark to emphasize the fact that this is just about the opposite experience of every independent musician that you’ll ever listen to. Neil makes the journey sound extremely magical, like it’s one built on pure will and that a simple decision to become a musician will have the rest falling into place.
Most of the time I’d reassure ALL of you out there that the road just ain’t that easy – but maybe it is if you’re this talented? I wouldn’t know of course…I don’t have half the chops or talent that Neil has. This cat might just possess all those skills necessary to make it naturally…which is going to…hmm…probably frustrate the living daylights out of anyone out there that has spent their life preparing for their music, career, or even a solitary moment in the spotlight. Apparently, it’s as easy as picking up the phone!
Of course, I’m giving him an extra hard time due to the write-up I’ve read on his social media…because it DOES sound like this is all indeed the case…and MAYBE it is. I’m from the old-school of hard-work, grit, & determination…hearing the amount of refinement in Neil’s capabilities and instincts certainly leads me to believe he’s been chipping away at this dream for a lot longer than he’s letting on. There is, at the very least, evidence on this new EP that he’s been working at it from as far back as 2015…so if you just woke up this morning and you’re wondering why you don’t have a full-contract, a management team, and a worldwide tour planned out by breakfast time, don’t be discouraged…give it a couple years.
Neil…brother…stay HUMBLE man!
I’m going to take this whole tale as more of an indication of his excitement level; to give you the full-scope of it all, he contributes in several ways as a musician. Word on the street is that he’s developed a powerful fondness for the ol’ pick-up gig and plays around 300 shows per year in every kind of venue that you can imagine…so don’t get the impression he’s just been sleeping and waiting for the inspiration to strike…he’s been out there, working at getting this set of tunes dialed-in to right where they should be. The results truly do speak for themselves, he’s done a wonderful job on the songs throughout the Extended Play Catalogue Vol. 1 EP…the man writes a great tune & has real soul in his voice. It certainly doesn’t take an official recording to prove the validity of a musician when you can clearly hear that music has been inside them all along, just like you can hear in Neil’s tunes. Right off the drop as “Three Days On The Wagon” begins, you can absolutely hear that the real spirit & soul of a musician resides inside of this artist. In a fast-paced Blues-Rock/Americana combo – things just continually get better and better as the music fills the atmosphere and Neil lets loose that incredible voice he’s got…just a hint of rasp, growl, & grit in his tone that gives it all an additional edge. The harmonica is straight-up off the charts amazing; Neil has not only got great songs on his record, but extremely talented & skillful players surrounding him in effort to bring these tunes to life. From what I’ve read on the EP, the harmonica is provided by the insanely talented Thomas Creveston, who deserves a huge high-five for his massive contribution to the energy of this opening tune. “Three Days On The Wagon” reveals a depth of skill immediately, an understanding of the sound, and a flawlessly executed wild ride through a song that has a pure vein of widespread accessibility. I’m not usually one for Blues-Rock OR Americana…but as you all know, I’m a fan of what’s good in any genre; Neil’s not just good, he’s truly great & I fully believe that you can hear that natural talent from the get-go on this EP.
Moving into the lighthearted vibe of “I Want To Drink Beer With You,” the music brightens-up in a more playful way, still highly professional but revealing more of the heart of the artist behind the writing. I’d have a beer with this guy! I’m sure you would too after hearing this second tune from the record…Neil sounds like & seems like a genuinely great guy. Listening to the words of “I Want To Drink Beer With You” highlights his talent for imagery in his lyricism, but also really focuses-in on the melodic, delivering an exceptional chorus that really hits the mark of its intended sweetness & invitational sound. This entire song has a real welcoming vibe that will make you thirsty for more of it – it’s got a nice, familiar, comforting sound that keeps the acoustic-based music warm and friendly. Highlights from the rhythm section of Stephen Amari (Bass) and Nate Hanson providing the percussion…loved the backing vocals as well, they sound fantastic with the chorus of voices supporting Neil’s lead and adding emphasis to the melody he’s put together here. “I Want To Drink Beer With You” is certain to please a crowd in a live setting, but it’s also pretty much guaranteed to snag your attention in the recording as well – it’s the kind of tune with enough crossover appeal in its sound & style, with such relatable ideas in the lyricism that it’s likely a song like this could potentially reach out to an even wider-than-anticipated audience.
Dude even has a master’s grip on the mid-tempo tune…which again, many musicians would tell ya, can take a lifetime to grasp…yet somehow Neil really does make it sound like all these sounds & songs truly do come naturally to him – check out “Loving And Leaving” and you’ll hear an example of what I mean. Likely one of my favorites from the set, I think this song speaks volumes on behalf of the sincerity you’ll find in Neil’s approach…it’s songs like “Loving And Leaving” that confirm he’s got his soul invested into his music and that it’s not just as easy as getting out of bed one morning to flip the switch on to green-light his career. It’s one of my favorite tracks because it is seriously impressively refined to a perfectly smooth sound & vibe that completely catches the ears through its authentic emotion and questioning, humble lyricism. Neil’s guitar work deserves real credit and accolades for the smooth & comforting vibe he’s created here…which works wonders with the contrast of some heavier ideas in the lyrics that reflect a lot of soul-searching and the ups/downs of what it’s like to be in love & in a relationship. He provides genuine insight and real emotions in this tune that speak loudly on behalf of the real heart in this artist. Neil does a great job on the vocals and really connects with this song…at the end of the day, I think a lot of people out there will relate to what he’s singing about and certainly understand where he’s coming from…there’s a real honesty in this tune that I completely appreciated. Like a John Mayer of sorts…but like, with the actual soul you always wished the guy really had – Neil’s got that similarly sweet approach in the music mixed with emotionally powerful lyricism and hooks that beg to be listened to.
The Extended Play Catalogue Vol. 1 EP continues with the up-tempo tune, “Losers Weep.” I’ve said it before already Neil, and I’ll say it again proudly – Thomas Creveston deserves a MASSIVE high-five. I’d happily listen to a full album of this guy just playing the harmonica without a single other sound around, he really IS that amazing. The steady pace and stoic sound of “Losers Weep” is brilliantly complemented by what Thomas brings to this tune, which also features some of my favorite moments from Neil on guitar as well. A lot of me hears “Losers Weep” and thinks it would be a great choice as the single…but if I’m being truthful, I haven’t heard on a song on this EP to this point that wouldn’t qualify in that regard. I think with a bit more of a rock/soul vibe going-on in “Losers Weep” that there’s a chance the appeal of this tune could stretch into several genres and catch the attention of fans all over the fringe; I’m always a big fan of putting out songs like this as singles given that they have a greater chance of finding several different audiences to listen. LOVED the way this song opens up…the way into “Losers Weep” immediately hints at the adventure in sound to come, and I genuinely believe you can hear just how into this moment & vibe Neil really is. Dude’s a fantastic singer…I have a feeling that he likely would consider himself to be more of a guitar-player or songwriter if you were to ask him, but truthfully, this guy absolutely belongs in front of a microphone just as much. He’s got so much personality and character in his voice…such insightful ways of pairing his enthusiasm and passion…he’s nailing it all here on “Losers Weep” and certainly on the surrounding songs on the EP as well…talented, talented man he certainly is.
There’s just something indescribably welcoming about this guy’s sound that really has you rooting for him. “Sleep When I Die” is the perfect example of a song in a style that I wouldn’t usually connect with, but completely do through Neil’s perspective. Dude has a truly incredible voice – some of his best moments come roaring through the rasp & soul he brings to “Sleep When I Die” – but even aside from another fantastic turn on the mic, you can’t help but get right into the groove with him on this tune. The music surrounding Neil is as fantastic, warm, and glowing as ever…his guitar work is sweetly innovative & lively here, complemented strongly by the rhythm section and inimitable harmonica playing from Thomas. “Sleep When I Die” speaks to the musicians, artists, and creators out there – you all know this sentiment extremely well…and you understand that voice you hear in your head isn’t telling you you’re crazy so much as it’s telling you to believe and go after your dreams – just like Neil is. Or at least he will be from this point on-forward – the official release of the Extended Play Catalogue Vol. 1 EP is today, March 4, 2018 – and I’d expect more than a few people out there will find this record, there’s simply not a thing about it that doesn’t make you want to listen more & more, day after day. So if he’s looking for a way to fill that other 65 days of the year where he hasn’t been onstage…I’d say he’s going about it all the right way; people are going to hear this EP and that phone is gonna be a-ringin.’
Neil ends his record with a gem he’s pulled from the past into the present, with the gentle & tender tune “Well Kept,” which actually dates back to 2015, assuming I’m correct in my research here. Proof for all you fine folks out there that have had their jaws on the floor in amazement of what Neil seemed to just decide he wanted to do one day while getting out of bed, that it has indeed, been much more of a journey than he’s initially letting us in on. But with respect to the old adage of ‘a good song is never finished, only abandoned,’ – Neil has chosen extremely wisely in keeping this track in his back pocket throughout the years until the right opportunity arrived, which is certainly right now on this EP. It’s not just another great tune from the man, it’s a great fit for this record…and considering the wild beginning we started with on “Three Days On The Wagon,” “Well Kept” ends the EP & experience on a much more subtle & conclusive note that is more than satisfying. The bending…oh what is that…pedal-steel most likely…whatever’s creating those brilliant guitar tones is fantastic. It can often be tough in a sense to get past what an incredible voice Neil has to focus on all the elements in the music that have made this EP spectacular to listen to along the way…but that’s a nice problem to have. The star really remains the star here, despite the numerous studio-aces & crack-team of musicians he’s working with throughout the record…and “Well Kept” is a great reminder of that, due to the fact that it was recorded before the rest of the EP back in 2015. You’d almost expect to hear a difference somehow…that “Well Kept” might be a good song, but not a great song by comparison to all the flashy tunes he’s written since…and if you did assume that, you’ll find yourself pleased to be wrong. “Well Kept” is not just a perfect fit and sweet melody to end the album – it’s complete confirmation that Neil Gregory Johnson, has been waiting in the wings for years harboring & hiding this amazing amount of natural talent he has.
After listening to the Extended Play Catalogue Vol. 1 EP – I think we can all agree…whatever it was, whatever inspired him to get out of bed that day and just up and decide to become the musician he’s CLEARLY always been meant to be…you’ll be thankful he came to the same conclusion that you have by checking out the flawless six tunes on this record…that making music is right where he truly belongs.
Find out more about Neil Gregory Johnson and help him celebrate the official release of the Extended Play Catalogue Vol. 1 EP today by visiting his official website at: https://www.neilgregoryjohnson.com