Not familiar with the name Johnny Moeller? If you’ve heard the work of Darrell Nulisch, one of the great soul-blues singers working today, you’ve heard Johnny Moeller. If you’ve listened to the work of Severn label-mate Lou Pride or the current incarnation of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, you’ve heard Johnny Moeller.
With exquisite taste and impeccable execution, Moeller has long been a sideman extraordinaire, the kind of player who invariably makes the guy up front sound good, while remaining largely in the shadows himself. He’s released a couple of discs, but they’ve been rather fragmented collections, lacking a cohesive focus. BlooGaLoo, too, gathers tracks recorded sporadically over some four years, but despite a rather eclectic approach it’s a coherent collection that showcases Moeller’s vocals on a handful as well as his typically tasteful guitar.
Backing Moeller is one of the best rhythm sections in the business – drummer Rob Stupka and bassist Steve Gomes, both of whom have worked with Moeller for years. Guests include Kim Wilson, who contributes vocals to a pair and harmonica on one track, Lou Ann Barton (vocals on a pair, including a duet with Moeller) and Shawn Pittman, who handles one track. Moeller’s own vocals are adequate but unremarkable, so the variety proves welcome.
Moeller’s guitar work, not surprisingly, is stellar throughout. He’s a master of the tension and resolution that give the blues such power, and he’s unfailingly economical. With a lean, muscular approach whether he’s tearing off stinging leads or nailing furiously chunky rhythms, Moeller’s never one to waste a note.
'BlooGaLoo' is an apt description of the contents here. Everything’s based in the blues, but funk is an equally constant presence, as witnessed on the raucous titular instrumental that kicks things off. Most of the remaining material is quite strong, with Moeller contributing five of the disc’s eleven tracks. There are several shuffles, notably the two that Wilson sings (though he only contributes a brief burst of harmonica to one of ‘em). There’s stone blues (“Everybody’s Got To Cry Sometime,”) and stoner rock (“Theme From A One Armed Swordsman”). Both Moeller’s own “I’m Movin’ On Up” and a cover of Earl King’s “Trick Bag” feature ‘party vocals’ that may not bear up to repeated listens, but Moeller’s solo turn on the closer, a heavily-distorted “Tease Me Baby” from that other Earl, the late Mr. Hooker, is mesmerizing in its stripped-down simplicity.
The one thing that isn’t here, in fact, is the self-indulgence all too common when a sideman steps out. Moeller’s worked with some of the most soulful singers around, and he understands the importance of restraint. There may be more guitar on this collection, but there’s no over-the-top wanking. Moeller always puts the songs first, crafting solos that compliment rather than dominate each tune.
A fine collection from a superior guitarist, this one ought to raise Moeller’s profile considerably.