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Jef Lee Johnson: Hype Factory

For some artists, the title “multi-instrumentalist” refers to the ability to make a keyboard sound like six instruments and a percussion section. For the dizzyingly talented Jef Lee Johnson that means he plays everything-besides virtuoso guitar abilities and great power-soul vocals, he plays sax, bass, keyboards and more. Johnson uses these skills for creative, but pointed, swampy funk purposes on the epic, two-disc release Hype Factory (Dreambox Media DMJ/1059; 126:08). With his guitar at the center, Johnson uses that instrumental bag of tricks sparingly, employing sitar on the swanky, off-beat “Lovevolution,” which recalls some early Lenny Kravitz, mechanical sounds for the cynical “Cold World” and accordion (by his late wife, Trish) and pedal steel (by Kurt Johnston) on the cruising, upbeat “Movin’ On.” As a vocalist, Johnson comes across as a more jaded (or sometimes smart-aleck) Stevie Wonder, matching his cool but ultimately optimistic lyrics on tunes like “Conventional Wisdom” and “Free (As You Wanna Be).” As a guitarist, he’s got all the bases covered-from bluesy acoustic (“Caged (Through These Bars)”) and sweet jazz chordings (“Hard to Keep the Faith”) to offbeat countrified licks (“O Shannequa”). These considerable abilities and unique songwriting outlook make Johnson, the artist, a true original.

Originally Published