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Kent (CDTOP2 392)

The Invitation, Dedicated To The Greatest, Mother Nature, I Waited Too Long, Slow Walk You Down, Danger Zone, Ghetto Child, Love Attack, Every Dog's Got His Day, If You're Looking For A Fool, Dear Mother, Four Dried Beans and many more...

If you only know Johnny Copeland as a Grammy-winning Texan blues singer and guitarist from his 1980s and 1990s recordings on Rounder, Verve and Alligator, these earlier sides may come as a bit of a surprise.

For, before finding a level of fame slugging it out on dualling-guitars with the likes of fellow Texan blues guitarists like Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan, he had been out there for a number of years working his way up as a full-throated and passionate soul singer, recording a whole bunch of 45s for different labels. Despite their consistent excellence, commercially speaking, results were at best mixed.

This compilation of 43 of these soul sides derive from the years in which Johnny teamed up with producer Huey Meaux and commenced issuing records on a number of labels, including Wand, Suave, Jet Stream, Boogaloo and Wet Soul. While  there is evidence on a few of an artist still reaching for his own style, the majority of numbers included here are magnificent examples of a gritty soul singer in command of his material.

Highlights include a traumatic melt-down in The Invitation, a number that starts gently enough until by the end Johnny has convinced nobody but himself that the invitation of an old flame to his forthcoming wedding has healed his hurt. There is also a marvellous version of the bluesy It's My Own Tears That's Being Wasted where a beautiful song is underpinned by some stellar blues guitar playing (he would return to this one in later years during his Rounder days). And Slow Walk You Down is just a tremendous song, marvellously sung.

He was indeed pretty adept at taking songs that others had done well with and giving them his own spin. There is for example a corking version of Wilson Pickett's Danger Zone and his take on Webb Wilder's If You're Looking For A Fool is simply stunning.

And after a CD and a half of consistently strong soul, the collection ends with a selection of demo version of some of the songs which, with just Johnny's voice and guitar, sound every bit as good as the finished record.

Review Date: April 2013

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