Saturday, March 20, 2010

Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element

Tonight was the much anticipated CD release show for Volume 3 from the Criminal Element at 3rd and Lindsley. They have played two shows in town recently, but this was to be a night all to themselves giving them the space they need to truly do what they do. The release of Volume 3 marks a sort of growth from this band that showed them still writing all of the material on the spot in the studio, but making it into songs that have a little more substance than "Toasted" or "Passed Out" from previous volumes. Don't get me wrong, they still employ their clever criminal content and sexual innuendo, but the compositions and arrangements are more involved and mature.

Third was hoppin' tonight with a pretty good sized crowd and thanks to the Viking sound engineer Mikey, one of the best in Nashville, there was nary a sound issue for a guy like me to notice and stew on all night. If you're going to play this club, play it on Friday night. There is nothing this sound man can't handle and he works really hard to make everything sound perfect every time.

After a short sound check sermon from Johnny, the band started up with the single from the new volume, "Sum Of It All". The fans tonight were given a special treat by way of Johnny's vintage Wurlitzer electric piano which was also featured heavily on the next two songs, "Go", and "Closing In On You", the slick reggae tune that I really like. Russell Wright sits right in the pocket with the bass line that gets stuck in your head for the rest of the night. The verse section is Marley-esque with harmonies that could only sound better with Jamaican ladies singing them, while the chorus goes strong power ballad, then right back into the bass groove. After this suite, it was time for the classic make up song from the Element. It started as it usually does, this time with Randy Boen just throwing out a guitar riff, and the rest of the band following along. The riff started slow but the song soon took off and became a pretty good number. It's always fun to hear Johnny freestyle the lyrics of these make ups, something that he is a master of. These improvisations give the audience a chance to not just listen for a certain song, but instead just kick back and see what happens. The next new song was "I Deserved It", featuring Johnny with a screaming "slide guitar" solo from his keyboard. Anyone who wasn't watching would swear that there was a Les Paul up there with a Coriciden bottle running down the neck, not a keyboard from the 80's. The jam came to a halt to let the dynamic drum duo take a nice solo with Curt Redding on the kit and Bobby "Nightlife" Knowles who was sitting in all night on the congas. These two are connected at the brain and their collaborations always sound like one drummer with 8 different appendages all banging on something in perfect time.

The second set started with some solo noodling from Johnny which led into the mini theme trilogy of "I Wish I Could", "Do Ya Girl", and "In Strange Places". These three songs follow a storyline from meeting a crazy party girl, to getting used and abused, to coming out the other side. The three completely different songs seem to mold together well with sometimes rockin', sometimes spacey jams in between, providing another example of this album's maturity. With this being the first time they have played this trilogy live since the studio, they looked a little scared and on edge but they pulled it off pretty well for a band who refuses to "rehearse". Continuing with the new material, next was "Wouldn't That Be Nice", a standard Element party song. It has the usual funky verses into the booming chorus that the Criminals have made into their trademark formula. It also has another C.E. mainstay, hilarious lyrics that make daily household chores sound more than a little dirty. Closing out with the always popular and manic "Damn Right", they ended with a foot-stompin' revival style jam that the fraction of a crowd that remained went nuts for. Unfortunately, encore shouts were shot down pretty quick with house music.

Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element have proven with this record that they can make real rock and roll while still managing to keep their wild ways and love for improvisation in tact. Volume 3 has increased their repertoire by a third, and with their ability to just make up great songs, this should make for some good shows this summer.


  1. Great review!
    Robert "nightlife" Knowles????

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