Spirit Of Unicorn 2022
Guitar-wielding honky cat gets out of the woods to dig a hole from the past to the present.
One of the most underrated great guitarists, Davey Johnstone, is principally known for just one of his gigs – the decades-long, if intermittent, role as Elton John’s lieutenant. This collaboration that began 50 years ago with 1971’s “Madman Across The Water” and lasted till the late ’70s when Elton’s team moved to the Alice Cooper camp, and Davey’s axe chopped the riffs on “From The Inside” and Flush The Fashion” – yet Johnstone had already been a member of MAGNA CARTA and played on such remarkable records as Joan Armatrading’s "Whatever's For Us" and “Bella Donna” by Stevie Nicks. But the 70-year-old’s latest stretch with John was interrupted by the pandemic, so Davey decided to pick up where his solo debut “Smiling Face” left off in 1973.
Credited to a band now, “Deeper Than My Roots” is a family affair, the veteran’s sons – vocalist Elliot, drummer Jesse and keyboardists Charlie and Tam – accompanying him on many a number, mainly cowritten with actor Rick Otto, alongside old friends Nigel Olsson, Denny Seiwell and Bob Birch. The latter, whose prominent bass figures help propel cosmic, sitar-tinctured instrumentals “Black Scotland” and “Walt Dizney” to cathartic codas, passed away in 2012, which could point to this album’s original start, but the platter apparently had to ripen enough to become as warmly wondrous as it is ten years down the line – only expecting the vestiges of Johnstone’s previous jobs would be a mistake. While the stints with stars could rub off on Davey, their influence doesn’t really show here, yet the master doesn’t try and conceal the source of his melodicism and shines a light on his roots by featuring a faithful, albeit flashing a fresh mandolin part, cover of “Here, There And Everywhere” as one of the bonuses, the other – the Vanessa Bryan-voiced and piano-driven “All The Time In The World” – bringing the record to a close in spiritual way, as the band leader’s licks reach for the celestial realm.
However, the album’s main body seems so down-to-earth as to feel intimate, simply arranged pop pieces like the quietly celebratory cut “Go Easy On My Heart” or the old-timey soul ballad “You Lied To Me” sparkling with love, their mellifluous melodies highly memorable and elevated by Johnstone’s strum, slider roll and six-string harmonies, whereas the woozy wobble of “One Look In Your Eyes” has a delicate magic about it – so necessary to add a spring to the song’s step once steady beats and soft riffs project it off the ground and into the skies. The moving tenderness may turn acoustic on “Meh Amour” and cushion “Melting Snow” in a shimmering organ, but the psychedelic “Boxer In The Corner” – the sole Davey-sung offering on display – is quite boisterous, and the gospel sway of “Deeper” uplifting and vibrant. So once the folksy “The Final Quarter” is dissolved in silence, the listener must ask for more – and that’s when the bonus tracks come into play… yet they won’t suffice.
DJ should emerge on his own again, the sooner the better; meanwhile, keeping an eye on his kin should be a wise course of action.