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Great voice, great songs

Genesee Avenue
Genesee Avenue
By the Steph Johnson Band

Spinster Recordings: 2006

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This review first appeared in the July 20, 2006 issue of the North County Times.

The late San Diego musician/music writer Buddy Blue Seigal compared local singer Steph Johnson to Rickie Lee Jones. A fair description, but I'll diverge slightly from Buddy's take and argue a more apt comparison might be Boz Scaggs. Johnson's music is more energetic than Jones', closer to Scaggs' fusion of rock, jazz and blues (generally combining all three in varying measures). And as magical a singer as Jones is, she simply doesn't possess Johnson's ability to scat, to improvise.

Johnson has the pipes to do anything she wants. Expressive, pliable, gorgeous – her voice is all that and more. When she starts bending it around her own songs, like "Wouldn't It Be Fine" or "Wonderful Things" ... well, it can be breathtaking to listen to. Then you get to the second-to-last song on her new album, "True Love," and everything comes together into a moment of absolute musical perfection. The heartbreak in her voice, the deep-pile vocal harmonies, the funky electric piano that reminds one of old Little Feat records. Mostly the construction of the song, which like a Steely Dan tune, is both melodic and edgy and full of interesting little passages that reveal new facets every listen.

"Genesee Avenue" is one of the most interesting local recordings in what is already a very good year for San Diego releases.