The following is are reviews of
John Pearson's Blues & Beyond CD
Just Blowed In Your Town

Just Blowed In Your Town

Every couple of years I come across John Pearson, either playing live or on a new CD, and I always enjoy what I hear. He is a master of the acoustic blues and his one-on-one performances at the Bothy Folk Club in Southport, for example, are masterly. This CD features him with a band but despite the cover photograph from the International Guitar Festival in the Wirral, the performance was recorded at the Astor Theatre in Deal, Kent.

The record features 'no overdubs, fixes and edits', so we hear just what the audience experienced that night in October 2001. Obviously, John's voice and guitar are prominent, and he is ably backed by Kenny Craddock (accordion, mandolin, piano, slide guitar), Jem Turpin (harmonica), George Pearson (bass) and Nana Appiah (percussion). John allows other instruments to shine as in Mississippi John Hurt's Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor or the dominant harmonica and accordion in Don't Take Everybody To Be Your Friend. George Pearson steps forward on Sitting On Top Of The World and I was surprised to find that a bass could be that melodic.

Although John Pearson does not possess a large vocal range and is not an aggressive singer, his world-weary vocals suit the blues and add conviction to the material. He sounds like a man who has seen and done it all (and judging by the stories he can tell, he has!). A good example is his reworking of the traditional Don't Take Everybody To Be Your Friend.

His guitar playing is exemplary. The show opens with a low-key instrumental showcase Mortality Drag and it continues throughout the album. He plays both six and twelve-string guitar, invariably fingerpicking, and with typical thoughtfulness, he credits his guitar makers on the sleeve.

In addition, John Pearson has an extensive knowledge of the blues and as well as familiar items, there are songs that are not heard often like Roebuck Staples' spiritual Let's Go Home and Alton Delmore's Deep River Blues. John's own Death Dream Blues isn't compromised by being next to Bob Dylan's Buckets Of Rain.

The CD is taken up to its 70 minute playing time by two studio cuts from 1990, Taj Mahal's John Ain't It Hard and Mose Allison's Don't Worry About A Thing: a very pleasant bonus.

Spencer Leigh
Presenter, BBC Radio Merseyside

The live album is an unpredictable beast to handle.  More often than not it’s a contract filler, a holding operation when creativity is ebbing, and very rarely a recording that can hold a candle to an outfit’s studio standards.  This is one of the uncommon ones that has both ends burning.  Luckily Last Days is John’s own label, so no suit-wearing exec. is threatening to withhold advances unless product appears. Recorded in the main in 2001 at Deal’s Astor Theatre, the title taken from the included  ‘No No Blues ‘ its 12 tracks are augmented by 2 studio cuts from way back in 1990 and all feature the late Kenny Craddock.  Pearson’s multi-instrumental cohort and friend of long-standing was tragically taken from us in 2002 in a Portuguese car crash and the CD is dedicated to his memory.  It’s a real tour de force owing as much to the accomplishments of the band as to its leader.  With, in the main, brother George Pearson on fretless bass (lovely, cheeky pilferings on ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’) Jem Turpin on harmonica, Nana Appiah on percussion with Kenny’s keyboards, accordion and various frets, the playing is as impressive as John’s understated singing and guitar bounciness are deceptively effortless.

It’s hard to select individual tracks for special endorsement ; ‘Live’ works as a whole and there’s no point in comparing and contrasting studio versions, drawn from recordings that go back as far as ‘Streamline Train’ (now out of catalogue) right up to the recent ‘Rhythm Oil’, to these.  The whole album has a life of its own and exists on its own terms, a measure of how Pearson just goes from strength to strength, his singing so assured and controlled.  He has an intuitive identity with Country Blues, viewed with a town-dwellers eye, - a combination of Lowell George and Mose Allison with whom he shares a certain vocal similarity.

Lyrically, the material is not blissful – that’s not the way of the Blues, but a certain calmness of heart prevails even on the apocalyptic Dylan cover ‘Man Of Peace.’ Energetic yes, but Blues & Beyond don’t do break-neck! The disciplined musicianship backs up thematically, clear and simple songs – sometimes private, inwardly-searching (‘Don’t Take Everybody To Be Your Friend’) sometimes with a world-weary resignation (‘Deep River Blues’) they paint pictures of the world that go far beyond C&W crying over a bottle of Michelob.

Check it out, it’s no transparent bid for the pocket money of completists – never disappointing, and a fine and fitting testament to Kenny Craddock’s enduring talent.

Clive Pownceby
The Bothy Folk Club


The following are reviews of
John Pearson's Blues & Beyond CD
Rhythm Oil

Rhythm Oil

This is a very interesting release.Combining the seductive blues playing and Claptonesque vocal styles of the very talented British acoustic guitarist John Pearson, with the diversely influenced musicians who comprise Blues & Beyond. John's bassist brother George currently plays funkier blues in Sonny Black's band; accordion and mandolin man Kenny Craddock has more of a folk-rock background. Harmonicist Jem Turpin mixes Latin touches with R&B; African percussionist Nana Tsiboe is a major worldbeat experimenter - Rhythm Oil is a carefully textured piece of work that really carves its own musical niche.

Several of the songs may have previously appeared elsewhere in the Pearson canon, but this is a major new work in every sense. And just as the title brings to mind both the actual mojo lotions and potions sold along Beale Street, and some intangible quality inborn in the blues and its practitioners, so actual composite of exotic flavours and the source of some unidentifiable essence which seems to be much more than the sum of its constituent parts.

The programme itself consists of excellent blues songs by Skip James, Willie McTell and Leadbelly, a lovely Bahaman number 'Don't Take Everybody To Be Your Friend', strong, global flavoured originals 'Rhythm Oil', Island Sunrise', and tracks which cleverly suggest earlier pieces before heading off in a whole new direction. In short it's a very impressive experiment, and a CD which really grows on you with each successive play.

Paul Lewis

Are you a lover of acoustic guitar masters like John Fahey, Stephan Grossman, Davey Graham, Leo Kottke and blues heroes like Blind Willie McTell, Joseph Spence and Lonnie Johnson? Are you not averse to the African 'blues' of Ali Farka Toure or Habib Koite? Maybe English folk appeals to you as well? In that case this sixth album of John Pearson, guitar specialist from England, will certainly please you, because Pearson's Blues & Beyond do exactly what their name promises: go beyond the blues.

Without sounding forced or unnatural and seemingly without effort they couple blues with folk, Lonnie Johnson style jazz and African rhythms.

For some years now Pearson has been playing on occasion with Nana Tsiboe, master drummer and percussionist from Ghana, and harmonica player Jem Turpin, Complemented with Kenny Craddock, mandolin and accordion, and brother George Pearson on fretless bass, Blues & Beyond forms a remarkable and very surprising band. Pearson's clear, sparkling guitar carries the CD. His slow-drawling voice, sometimes sad like Skip James, works rhythmically, as if he keeps pulling on the words. Tsiboe and Turpin manage to keep it unusually exciting without becoming too pushy. The combination Tsiboe-Pearson is a rare find!

You can hear how much both have influenced each other. Especially the self penned instrumentals 'Rhythm Oil' and 'Island Sunrise' are a remarkable synthesis of African rhythm, country blues and English folk. Delicious! This excellent CD bursts with invention delivered with such subtle craftsmanship that you don't even stop to wonder about the whole new musical genre which is being created.

Rinus van der Schans
Back to the Roots, Holland


The following are reviews of
John Pearson's CD
Grasshoppers In My Pillow

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Grasshoppers In My Pillow

Reviewing this has been time consuming; I just couldn't stop dropping my pencil and paper and revelling in the music - if Taplas reviewers got to vote for their CD of the year, this would be mine.

John Pearson has perfected the art of being British and playing American music. No cod Mississippi accent, no shouting or thrashing, just the cleanest guitar playing and the smoothest voice on the acoustic blues scene today. Davey Graham likens Pearson's voice to Mose Allison in his brief 'blessing', but there's more than a hint of Mr Graham himself here and I wonder if the CD's subtitles Blues, Gospel, Ragtime & Beyond isn't more than just a coincidental reference to Graham's own, Folk Blues & Beyond.

A strong collection, mostly from the American country blues/gospel traditions, but including a Dylan number, a couple of stunning Irish tunes and three originals, make up a fine showcase for his driving swinging guitar style. Percussionist Nana Tsiboe, Jem Turpin's harmonica and Kenny Craddock's accordion provide tasteful accompaniment.

I was going to comment on a pet hate of mine - the increasingly prevalent habit of 'thanking' hundreds of people on CD liner notes, but then spotted my own name among the 106 other - great album, John but how did you know I was going to review it!?

Adrian Lewis

John Pearson makes lovely, easy on the ear acoustic blues albums which are endlessly re-playable and beautifully programmed, featuring some splendidly picked guitar and gorgeous caramel vocals. His latest 17-track CD, which bears the qualifier: "Blues, Gospel, Ragtime & Beyond", is as the title suggests slightly broader in scope than usual, but also, I'm pleased to report, well up to the extremely high standard we've come to expect from this artist.

It features seven completely solo tracks - just John, a 6 or 12 string guitar, and frequently a footboard - as well as several others on which Pearson is usefully joined by harmonicist Jem Turpin and/or the extraordinary Ghanaian djembe and percussion player Nana Tsiboe. John is clearly pleased with the results of this unusual collaboration, and justly so. Tsiboe's rhythm work, when you analyse it is frequently quite astounding, but so totally appropriate that it rarely calls attention to itself.

Producer and occasional Van Morrison cohort, Kenny Craddock, plays accordion on the closing instrumental Great Dreams From Heaven, which along with Living on the Hallelujah Side, are associated with one of John's quirkier heroes, Nassau's Joseph Spence. Other regular Pearson favourite's in receipt of a tugged forelock include Leadbelly's Grasshoppers In My Pillow, Mississippi John Hurt's Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor and Mary Don't You Weep plus Muddy Water's Drive My Blues Away.

But there are a few more surprising choices nestling here, too. Bob Dylan's Man of Peace, never a personal favourite in the master's known 'Infidels' version, is totally transformed by Pearson into an insistent little riffer and is, for my money, far more successful here. The medley The Blackbird/An Comhra Dohn, a slow air hitched to a sprightly hornpipe, is pure folk, transcribed for guitar by Pearson from a traditional piece for pipes and fiddle.

All of these are supplemented by a bunch of great Pearson originals - blues and rags -which show him to be more than capable of adding to the tradition as well as personalising the already extant. The results are as comfortable as a favourite old easy chair, the sort of thing to which you'll return time and again. In short, here's an album I can't recommend highly enough.

Paul Lewis


The following are reviews of
John Pearson & Roger Hubbard's CD
Busy Bootin'
Busy Bootin'

Busy Bootin' is a compilation of live recordings made of John Pearson and Roger Hubbard during the 1991 International Guitar Festival. John Pearson plays six and twelve string guitars and shares vocals with Roger Hubbard who plays a National resonator steel guitar. The material is borrowed from the likes of Huddie Ledbetter, Leroy Carr, Cripple Clarence Lofton, Fred McDowell and Robert Johnson and played with due regard and respect to these great Blues artistes, while adding their own touch and personality in their arrangements.

The songs included range from the well-known "Walkin' Blues', 'Barrelhouse Woman' and 'Write Me a Few Lines' to 'Fort Worth and Dallas Blues' and Jitterbug Swing'. The excellent guitar work from both players is a reflection of the extensive experience they have gained over the years, playing 'on the road' and in recording sessions. The singing is an apt demonstration of less being more, conveying the message and emotion without resorting to larynx damaging excesses or 'Amurrican' vowel twisting.

"Recorded live' often translates from 'promotional speak' as the excuse, 'yes but it was recorded live', however 'Busy Bootin' has gained much through being recorded live. The sound is clean and clear while retaining enough ambient feedback to capture the feeling of 'being there', and left me stamping my feet and shouting for more.

Peter Fairbairn

Both these men are well-known on the British blues circuit, with Roger Hubbard being perhaps better-known internationally due to his early seventies album 'Brighton Belle' on the Blue Goose label, a subsidiary of Yazoo Records, They are both highly respected and highly rated guitar players and the subtitle of this CD 'Live At The International Guitar Festival Of Great Britain' should give readers a good indication of the focus of this set - acoustic guitar blues, with the emphases firmly on the virtuoso picking skills of both men, running through a programme of vintage country blues and gospel. The vocals are, however, perfectly acceptable, and the whole CD is handsomely packaged - so if you are looking for some classy playing, here it is!

Norman Darwen
Blues Life


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