Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page

Big Sugar is:

Gordie Johnson – guitar/vocals
Garry Lowe – bass
Kelly “Mr Chill” Hoppe – harmonica/sax/melodica
Friendlyness – keyboards/toasting
Stephane “Bodean” Beaudin – drums

So, brothers andbig sugar sisters, the unthinkable has happened and you are now holding REVOLUTION PER MINUTE, the first new and complete Big Sugar album that’s been produced in a decade. You can thank whatever God it is you pray to for that, but you should spare a little gratitude for Texas, too.

After a banner year of producing artists such as Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes, North Mississippi Allstars, The Trews and Wide Mouth Mason, “I really walked into the studio with the attitude, ‘We run tings, tings na run we’,” says Gordie Johnson, the mercurial guitar genius who unleashed the Hugo Boss clad Big Sugar back in the ‘lumberjack plaid’ grunge era. “It was an attitude I always had germinating, but coming to Texas and living here has really nurtured the outlaw side of me.

To tell it another way, the band Johnson had taken from Queen Street to national institution was under pressure when he bid goodbye to Canada in 2003. “There were a lot of external forces at work in that time,” Johnson explains. “When committee decision-making started to encroach upon our creativity I could see it was time to split.”

End of story. Except that one day Johnson took a gander from his porch in the Texas Hill Country and saw a whole different landscape – finally. “It was like Groundhog Day,” he laughs. “I stuck my head out of the hole, I looked around, I went, ‘Look, no weasels, I guess it’s safe to come out.’”

Which brings us to Revolution Per Minute, an album that puts Big Sugar firmly behind the wheel again, positing Johnson as a reborn Texas soulman on tracks like “There’s No Tellin’ Me” (featuring Ian McLagan of the Faces) as much as it confirms his role as the Godfather of scorching arena rock gone Jamaican. Not that there’s much competition for that.

But what’s most striking about Revolution Per Minute is its looseness. This is as open and groovy as Big Sugar has ever sounded, as if that Texas heat traveled with Johnson to Toronto and relaxed the band’s connective tissue. It’s something he puts down to a stunningly limber line-up that includes drummer Stephane ‘Bodean’ Beaudin and keyboard-savant, ‘DJ Friendlyness’, along with veterans Garry Lowe on bass and Kelly ‘Mr. Chill’ Hoppe manning the harps ‘n’ horns.

Johnson states, “All we did was hit record and we totally captured Big Sugar live off the floor. This is the least messed with record I’ve ever made. Even when it came to mixing at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio, we just put it up on the desk and moved faders. It just didn’t need any help. We let it be what it is.”

The pop-rock side of Big Sugar manifests itself in tracks like “Little Bit A All Right”, or the bobbing and weaving first single “Roads Ahead”. And check the funk on “Come A Little Closer… Now Come!” for Big Sugar at its most organic, where the band channels James Brown for five glorious minutes, or the way that “It’s All I Know” – with Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes sitting in – moves from its slinky North Mississippi pocket into a left-field, horn-driven middle section dispatched from somewhere between Charlie Mingus and Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.

In their reggae and dubwise moments, Johnson and Co. have never been more convincing, even when they’re pitting melodica against the Maritime fiddle of guest star Tim Chaisson on “If I Were Heaven Tonight”, or goosing the dancehall of “Work It Now” with touches of Bollywood. Montrealer Shane Murphy (whom GJ recently produced) brings extra beef to “Done So Much in the Dark”, while Jay Malinowski of Bedouin Soundclash does his bit to massage the political concerns of the title track into something a little closer to lovers rock.

In the end, it all amounts to 50 new minutes of Gordie Johnson’s patented, multi-dimensional rebel music, only fresher and more inspired than even the hardest of hardcore Big Sugar fans would have any right to expect. In other words, Big Sugar is back, and you better get used to it. All that remains, people, is the listening and the roads ahead.