Johnny Nicholas

Fresh Air

Texas Platters

"Roll, and I'll just feel something" begins the Vaughan Brothers' 1990 landmark Family Style, codifying the blues backward and forward as readily as the tonic, dominant, and subdominant chord progression stamping the genre since the beginning like a serial number. Johnny Nicholas' 2011 breakthrough Future Blues rode a Fifties Cadillac glide every bit as smooth as his Saxon Pub residency, but Fresh Air takes wing after dark. Overseen by the Resentments' Bruce Hughes on bass, with Scrappy Jud Newcomb as six-string whisperer, lap steel tamer Cindy Cashdollar, and Cajun accordion great Steve Riley, the veteran Austin guitarist whistles out of the gate on "Moonlight Train," his harp honking akin to late Bay Area mouth ventilator Norton Buffalo. "Kid Man Blues" layers a phosphorous Allman Brothers lead over Newcomb's mandolin, and later Nicholas' resonator guitar echoes canyon deep on Willie Dixon's "Back Door Man." Some is rote ("Blues Time," "Red Light"), but the groove always glows bar-lit (the sexy syncopated piano strut of "Sweet Katrina") and the buttery brushstrokes of "How Do You Follow a Broken Heart" approach the richness of Texas R&B lullaby-maker Charles Brown. Subtle, gospel-ghosted harmonies on the closing title song sunset beautifully, the envy of Hawaiian slack key guitar.

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