John Bigham describes the music on his band's new album as "country funk," and from its roiling grooves to his moaning vocals and vamping fretwork, the claim certainly qualifies as truth in advertising. The overriding sensibility here, though, at least as far as storytelling and attitude go, is all blues.
The title track, for example, has roots in the classic outlaw ballad "Stagger Lee." "Last Forever" is old-school, down-home blues, featuring Bigham on bottleneck slide guitar. Leaving very little to the imagination, "White Dress" is a juking toast to a sexy woman in the spirit of those that Muddy Waters and Son House used to sing.
"Betty Jean," the album's first single, also extols the virtues of an unforgettable woman -- in this case, Betty Davis, the fiery soul singer and second wife of the great Miles Davis. Bigham played guitar in the latter's band for a while. He also worked sessions with Fishbone, Eminem, Dr. Dre and Nikka Costa, far-reaching associations that are evident in much of the music on "Black John."
Incantatory funk choruses abound, while "I Knew a Lady" gets a lift from a propulsive go-go beat, and mid-tempo workouts like "Better Babe" and "Push Into the Night" veer in the direction of rock. For all its grit and groove, though -- the arrangements on a couple of tracks here hint at the freakadelic soul of Gnarls Barkley -- the record ends with a pair of sublime ballads, the second of them, "Thinking About You," graced with lilting filigrees of West African-style guitar.