Album review: "Todd Rundgren's Johnson"
In the age of over-sharing, some folks might hesitate to open an e-mail touting Todd Rundgren’s latest CD, thanks to the title. But it turns out the veteran pop tunesmith is merely exposing his fascination with Delta blues legend Robert Johnson.
As Rundgren fans know, he has been performing Johnson tunes for a while, and as this year marks the bluesman’s centennial, it seems likely these songs will continue to pop up in concert. That’s good news for those who enjoy hearing Rundgren move in unexpected directions while saluting some less than obvious influences.
Rundgren tips his hat not only to Johnson but to his ’60s British blues-rock disciples — Eric Clapton and John Mayall, for instance. Raucously electric versions of “Dust My Broom,” “Traveling Riverside Blues” and “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” reveal the impact that albums by Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the Yardbirds and Cream have had on Rundgren’s approach to reviving vintage blues. Playing a Telecaster and layering the sound, Rundgren charges aggressively through Johnson’s repertoire, and, like Clapton, he pulls off the vocals without sounding out of his element.
Will blues diehards find Rundgren’s homage compelling? Unlikely. After all, countless musicians have paid tribute to Johnson in more emotionally stirring ways. Yet for Rundgren devotees and many others, this Delta-inspired excursion is well worth checking out.
— Mike Joyce, June 24, 2011