Johnny Sansone, Hopeland (Shortstack Records)

If you don’t already know who Johnny Sansone is, it’s high time you found out about him. Long known for his instrumental prowess, particularly on harmonica and accordion, Sansone has been growing steadily as a songwriter and bandleader since surviving the events of 2005. His performances of the anthem Poor Man’s Paradise on his own and with the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars vaulted him into the pantheon of New Orleans songwriters. A legendary series of acoustic sessions with guitarists Anders Osborne and John Fohl at Chickie Wah Wah after the flood elevated all three to another level of songwriting genius that is still playing out today.

reviews-johnnysansoneOsborne joins Sansone for these sessions with help from the Mississippi Hill Country world boogie of the Dickinson Brothers—Luther on lead, slide and bass; and Cody on drums. This is the swamp rockin’–est band sound Sansone has ever come up with and he brings the material to match. Sansone’s big, growling voice soars over the relentless pummeling of the rhythm driven by the Dickinson brothers. Luther and Anders have a formidable two-guitar attack. Anders frames these songs like a master builder while Luther darts and glides around his lines with sharp slide textures and dense cross-rhythms. The sound is Sansone’s vision, and he gives it a name as he honks and moans harmonica blasts like a freight train sounding its air horn deep in the night. “They call it the blues, they call it country, they call it rock ’n’ roll,” he sings. “It’s all just soul with a ‘Delta coating’”

The world boogie comes in right at the top with the irrepressible choogle of “Can’t Get There From Here.” “Derelict Junction” rides a deep-fried harmonica riff into a maelstrom of hard-driving frenzy that keeps building the intensity through the song. The title track is a medium tempo ballad that gives Sansone a chance to mythologize the trials of loving and losing, hitting the road and missing your roots. Luther’s slide offers appropriate sympathy. Things heat up again on the anthemic “Johnny Longshot,” which rides out on some more high-intensity slide work from Luther. “One Star Joint” is a slow-burn shuffle with Anders and Luther playing unison parts along with Sansone’s harp for a thick, raunchy sound. Johnny knows it’s a dive but he likes it as is. Things get even grittier on the hardscrabble “Plywood Floor.”

Sansone pulls out his accordion to wrap up the record on the classic ballad “The Rescue,” offering an elegiac touch that recalls the timeless “Save the Last Dance for Me.” The record is a great performance from all involved—supercharged, passionate music broken up halfway through, then again at the end by ruminative turns. The energy level peaks so hard it could easily fly off the rails, but the perfectly balanced production from Osborne, and the finishing touches from Trina Shoemaker’s superb mixing, keep the buzz and distortion from turning into a train wreck. That’s how you catch lightning in a bottle.