HomeMusicPacific Northwest-based Johnny Wheels and the Swamp Donkeys Release New Record

Pacific Northwest-based Johnny Wheels and the Swamp Donkeys Release New Record

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Pacific Northwest-based Johnny Wheels and the Swamp Donkeys’ new collection Keep on Pushin’ find Wheels and his bandmates guitarist Brandon Logan and bassist Taylor Frazier doing just that. The trio has played or shared a stage with truly impressive names such as Jim Belushi and Dan Akroyd, Great White, Cheap Trick, and Robert Cray, to name a few, and such august company clearly points to the regard with which this band is held. They aren’t writing, recording, and performing disposable fluff. The nine cuts included on Keep on Pushin’ illustrate a diversity in style and a deep substance that’s the stuff lasting achievements are made from. The new album is just that – an enduring example of this band’s considerable gifts.  

WEBSITE: https://johnnywheelsband.com/

Those gifts are evident from the start. “On the Run” is one of the more nuanced moments on the album. Wheels and the Swamp Donkeys are buckets of blood blues specialists but, instead, draw from a broad array of sounds and influences that they employ in an eminently tasteful way. The chorus for this track is especially effective, particularly in the context of a winning groove that Wheels and his bandmates sustain for the song’s entirety, and the addition of horns and organ to the band’s core three piece gives them a well-rounded instrumental attack.

Logan and Wheels are doubly effective on the third track “This Time”. They trade two knock-ya-dead solos that are centerpieces for the performance, but many listeners are likely to prefer the breathtaking melodic strength of Wheels’ harmonica work. It’s his finest moment with the instrument in this collection. It’s Keep On Pushin’s first real stab at hardcore blues and rates as one of the album’s best cuts.

“Light Me Up (Hold Me In)” begins with a series of vamps before launching into the song in earnest. It’s an ode to the communal powers of smoking marijuana and the song’s upbeat celebratory nature is a welcome addition to the album’s running order. All of the band’s material is written and recorded with their minds on how the material will land in a live setting, but probably more so here than other album entries.

“The Fall” brings us back to the blues in a big way. Brandon Logan’s guitar strides to center stage for this number and he holds our attention with an astonishing display of feel and skillful prowess. There’s a real sense of high stakes drama that Wheels brings to these moments with his singing, and it reaches one of its zeniths with his performance here. “Mizz Karman” shows us another side of their musical character as one of the instrumental focal points is how the organ playing locks in with Logan’s main guitar riff and noticeably fattens the song’s sound.

“Time to Bail (Keep on Pushin’)” is essentially a duet between Wheels and the jaw-dropping vocal talents of LaRhonda Steele. They knew they had something special with this cut early on and it builds around the impossibly sympathetic chemistry that the two singers share. Ending with this showstopper puts an emphatic exclamation point on one of the year’s best albums, no matter the performer, or genre. 

Heather Savage

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