Roland Johnson ‘Set Your Mind Free’ LP/CD (Blue Lotus Recordings) 4/5

Well, it’s been a long time Roland, October 2016 to be exact, yep it’s that long ago since I reviewed your first long-player, “Imagine This”, in which that deep soul masterpiece “Ain’t That Loving You” still gets frequent plays here. I didn’t have a clue that this was out, UK collector/DJ Cliff Steele announced its arrival in vinyl format on the dreaded FB, so, vinyl ordered and eagerly anticipated I contacted Blue Lotus direct and in no time at all, a digital copy was in my sweaty mitts. The wait was worth it, it’s a cracking album with something for every soul fan, one small gripe there isn’t an out and out weeper on here but fret not, vocally he’s in great form and in many ways this album leaves off where “Imagine This” ended. Musically it’s exciting to hear a southern soul man backed by 14 musicians which include a small string section. I’m assuming it was recorded at Blue Lotus Studios in St Louise. Of course, we were all enthralled by another Blue Lotus set, 2017’s Gene Jackson “1963” which still gets aired here too.

And so this ten-track album, kicking off with the storming title track, “Set Your Mind Free”, it’s relentless, set at the right pace, I can see this lighting up a few dancefloors, especially with the vinyl format being available. It has a nagging familiar riff, easy on the feet and ears. The track for me though is “Still Here” – think the James Hunter Six and you’re in the right territory – it has also got a sneaky subtle Jamaican feel to it, those stabbing horns are straight out of Kingston’s Studio 1, he’s joined by a fine female voice in Emily Wallace, crystal clear in tone and is the perfect foil for Roland, utterly fabulous in every way. The swaying “Now You’re Gone” drops the pace and morphs into a fine ballad, bathed in strings and a simple tap on the drum rim for company, there’s a subtle bass well down in the mix which builds to a crescendo and then drops back, complete with a sax solo, this really is lovely tune. The often recorded “You’re My Best Friend” is another easy on the ear stroller which sits on here without offending anyone. “Push & Move” is a duet with the aforementioned Gene Jackson, it has an insidious groove which will take you over, so try and keep still to this, an impossible task. The closer, “Mean Mistreatin”, is a bluesy strutter with guitar out front, and what sounds like a double bass stamping its authority throughout, it’s sparse, black, gritty and I love it. Not a million miles away from what Mavis Staples is doing now and another personal fave is the Dixie inspired romp, “You Know You’re Mine”, where Emily pops up again, her voice fits this genre perfectly, the manic sax solo just adds to this romping brew.

The other tracks just add to the overall quality of this album and I can’t recommend it enough. A long list of musicians bring much to the album, and we thank you all. Track this down in whatever format you’re happy with, this is another stunning heartwarming set. Thank you again.

Brian Goucher

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Roland Johnson ‘Imagine This’ CD (Blue Lotus Recordings) 4/5