Reggie Washington: Rainbow Shadow Vol. 2 (Jammin’ Colors)

Review of album by bassist paying tribute to the guitarist/composer Jef Lee Johnson

Cover of Reggie Washington album Rainbow Shadow Vol. 2
Cover of Reggie Washington album Rainbow Shadow Vol. 2

Like its 2015 predecessor, bassist-vocalist Reggie Washington’s latest is a genre-bending set dedicated to the memory of guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, who died in 2013. Fifteen of the disc’s 17 songs are Johnson compositions.

“Silence [No Secret],” despite squiggles and bleeps from turntablist DJ Grazzhoppa, is rootsy at its core: Marvin Sewell’s modal guitar voicings evoke Northern Mississippi trance blues, and Monique Harcum’s guest vocals likewise sound both atavistic and charged with forward-thrusting energy. A similar bluesy feel permeates the dark-hued remake of Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” (updated with an electronically tweaked audio clip of a Donald Trump rant) and “Emmett Till,” Johnson’s paean to the Chicago-born civil-rights martyr. “Hype” (Pts. 1 and 2) re-grafts JB-flavored funk onto its New Orleans street-parade roots; “Other Thoughts of Fanny’s Toy” gives Washington the opportunity to strut his considerable solo chops.

[Read Jeff Tamarkin’s interview with Reggie Washington about his Rainbow Shadow project in tribute to the guitarist Jef Lee Johnson.]

“RSJ,” a tribute to Ronald Shannon Jackson, is an appropriately sly meld of prowling funk and irony-toughened wit; conversely, the electronica-infused “Children of the Sonic Soul/Gutter Punk With a Geschlossen” is as surrealistic (yet pointed) as its title. The lyrics of “Cake,” a kind of postmodernist updating of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” theme, may ruffle feathers in the #MeToo era, but guest guitarist Hervé Samb’s molten solo and drummer Patrick Dorcéan’s lurching, off-center cadences, combined with Washington’s own knuckle-popping bassline, summon a galvanizing mix of aggression and playfulness. (Other lyrics—“Sizzlean,” “Hard to Keep the Faith,” “Testimony/Open Up,” the aforementioned “Silence [No Secret]”—summon up more aggressively the struggles of modern-day freedom fighters.) Throughout, Washington and his bandmates create an aural landscape swirling with colors, resplendent with unexpected delights and textures, and shot through with tough-minded optimism.

Preview, buy or download the album Rainbow Shadow, Vol. 2 by Reggie Washington on Amazon.

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David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.