"Shaken" is the debut solo album by Hannah Johnson , who was , of course, one third of the fabulous Toy Hearts who were described [by me, in this very magazine] as being "one of the best live bands you could wish to see". I had the pleasure of seeing the Toy Hearts three times at Grateful Fred's and each time I was wowed by the wonderful musicianship of Hannah, her sister Sophia and their dad Stewart.
Now Hannah has formed a new band , The Broken Hearts , except that it is not entirely new as Stewart remains on pedal steel guitar and is joined by guitarist/tic tac bass player Chris Shirley [of another great live band, King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys].
Hannah's new album was recorded at Ameripolitan Studios in Austin, Texas and was co-produced by Hannah, Sophia and renowned producer Cris Burns [who has worked with , amongst others, Asleep At The Wheel, Dixie Chicks, Dale Watson, Rosie Flores and Willie Nelson].
As well as Hannah, Stewart, Chris and Sophia, the album features some of Austin's finest musicians.
What about the music?
Well, Hannah describes her album as "a celebration of Honky Tonk, Classic "Old Country", Western Swing, Blues and Standards", which is a pretty accurate description.
Of the eleven tracks, three are originals co-written by Hannah and the rest are covers of classic songs by the likes of Willie Nelson, Skeets McDonald, Roger Miller, Bob Wills and even Charlie Patton.
The album opens with a cracking original song , "Nowhere Train" , a catchy country shuffle which features Hannah's strong, distinctive vocals alongside some fine , twangy guitar, pedal steel and fiddle.
This excellent opener is followed by another original , "Morning Cocktail", a slow, mournful ballad about lost love which showcases Hannah's considerable vocal talents. It is clear that Hannah has carefully studied the vocal styles of the great Country singers in developing her own style.
The third original song , "Your Girlfriend Hates Me", is another gem, which evokes the spirit of the great female Country singers of the 1950's , like Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. This tale of jealousy and rivalry between two women features a superb swing arrangement , with some lovely piano by Emily Gimble and fiddle by Beth Chrisman. Great stuff. As well as the three excellent original songs, the covers are also of the highest quality. Hannah's version of "Trouble In Mind" , the 1920's blues standard by Richard M.Jones is quite superb, as is her entertaining and original take on Charley Patton's "Shake It & Break It".
For Western Swing fans, Hannah serves up a sprightly version of Willie Nelson's "Three Days", whilst Bob Wills' "Sooner or Later" is a dreamy, pedal steel-laden delight.
I could go on and on about how good this album is but all I will say is that if you want to hear honest, authentic Country music as it should be sung and played , then do listen to this album. You won't regret it.
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