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ALBUM REVIEW: THE JOHNNY CLASH PROJECT- ‘The Johnny Clash Project’ (2018)

The most novel and interesting covers album you will ever hear! The debut album of The Clash re-imagined as The Man In Black. 1977 punk as boom-chuka-boom-chuka country’n’western with the roots of original rock’n’roll showing.

By some quirk of fate I came across The Johnny Clash Project and purely on the name I decided to check them out. Well to say I was impressed is an understatement. I was further intrigued to read that they would soon be touring the UK so I dropped the lads a message on Facebook to find out if they were playing London and sadly the answer was not. Well a couple more emails and a bit of jiggery pokery and we had landed them to play at the London Celtic Punks show later this month in Leytonstone on Friday 27th April. More on that later but you may now be wondering what was so special as to warrant all this interest well here you go.

Covers are not unknown in the celtic-punk scene and I dare say 95% of celtic-punk releases include a cover or two but The Johnny Clash Project’s debut album is all covers. Not only that they are of the same band, The Clash. It is in fact a song-by-song tribute to The Clash self-titled debut album from 1977. Now there’s two ways to record a cover (three if you include f*cking it up like Ed Sheeran did recently with ‘Fairytale Of New York’) you can either copy it closely or else breathe new life into it and try and record it in a new style. We are used to hearing both here and they both have value as long as they are recorded with love and respect. The Johnny Clash Project have taken the second route and recorded an album that is so God-damn memorable and catchy, its songs haven’t left my brain alone for over a week!!

What they have done is take the songs of The Clash and recorded them in the style of the great and legendary country outlaw Johnny Cash. Yes The Man In Black himself. There’s plenty of elements of blues, Americana, folk and rockabilly but essentially this is country of Johnny Cash of the Folsom Prison Blues era. Songwriter. Six-string strummer(!). Storyteller. Country boy. Rock star. Folk hero. Preacher. Poet. Drug addict. Rebel. Saint AND sinner. Victim. Survivor. Home wrecker. Husband. Father. Son. and more… Johnny Cash the ultimate music villain widely loved and respected by all passed away in 2003  and this is also a loving tribute to him as well.

The Johnny Clash Project formed in January 2013, in Bologna in northern Italy, and stars Lorenzo Mazzilli (voice and guitar), Paolo Cicconi (guitar and banjo) and Zimmy Martini (double bass). All three are active in other bands, The Giant Undertow, Lucky Strikes and Muddy Worries but here they are united in having only one purpose- to take the songs of the one band whose influence in punk has never waned and re-imagine them in the style of the ultimate Country singer-songwriter outlaw, Johnny Cash and to make them their own and this they have done. With several tours of home behind them and a two month tour last year that took in Switzerland, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and England they have been causing waves and their live show has been receiving plaudits from all and sundry.

Taking the boom-chuka-boom-chuka of Marshall Grant’s double bass and piling on top a voice that is so close to Johnny’s that it will make you do a double take this album is an absolute must have. It all kicks off with ‘Janie Jones’ and it’s one of a handful of songs here that the original tune stays in tact. Most of the album is done in the style of ‘Remote Control’ and ‘I’m so Bored with the USA’ where the tune is completely different and it’s not until the chorus that you start to recognise things. There are several high points but to be perfectly honest from start to finish this album is an absolute belter. ‘White Riot’, ‘London’s Burning’. ‘Career Opportunities’ keep the energy of the originals and the fast tempo while  ‘What’s My Name’ and ‘Cheat’ are played as an emotional ballads and the curtain comes down with ‘Garageland’ and accompanied by Marc Santò on the fiddle and the three female singers from fellow Bologna ska band Le Birrette, Anna, Carlotta and Giulia, it even manages to stand out even more. Fourteen songs and just over forty-five minutes of musical heaven. There is something about knowing the words to a song that brings you closer to the music and here you almost find yourself singing along before you know what the song is!

As said Johnny was the ultimate rock’n’roll outlaw. Had he been born twenty later perhaps he might have embraced punk himself even. Ever faithful to both the spirit of The Clash and the sound of Johnny Cash this is pure unabashed country-folk but would they have got away with it if Lorenzo didn’t sound so much like Johnny Cash? Probably not but so what. Backed by Paolo Cicconi on electric guitar and banjo and Zimmy Martini double bass, they are joined here on the drums by Matteo Dall’Aglio whose simple rhythms and changes of pace take you back to those halcyon days of the 1950’s. The album was released on St. Patrick’s Day eve this year and has been released on Milan label Rocketman Records. The sound is completely authentic sounding and the whole project reeks of care and attention to detail. Normally we come across albums we love with a sense of joy crossed with dejection. Joy at the discovery of music that will warm your soul but dejection at the realisation that you will never (probably) get to see the band in question perform. Well some of you those feelings will remain while for Londoners we can catch The Johnny Clash Project in the flesh in just a couple of weeks time. Don’t miss this great band and while I do have a tendency to wax lyrical about records I love the songs on this album are still swimming inside my head as I write this a week after I first heard it so that has to be the best recommendation hasn’t it?

(listen to the whole of The Johnny Clash Project at the link below)

Buy The Johnny Clash Project

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Contact The Johnny Clash Project

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The Johnny Clash Project will be joined on Friday 27th April by Dutch celtic-folk-punkers Drunken Dolly, also playing in London for the first time, and London’s #1 celtic-punkers The Lagan. Live at one of East London’s most popular Irish pubs The Plough & Harrow, 419 High Road Leytonstone, London E11 4JU. Halfway along Leytonstone High Road the nearest tube is an easy 8 min walk from Leyton tube. For up to date information join the Facebook event here. Full tour dates- Tuesday 24th April at The New Inn, Canterbury * Wednesday 25th April at The Liver Hotel, Liverpool * Thursday 26th April at the Craft Taproom, Liverpool * Friday 27th April at the Plough & Arrow, London and Saturday 28th at the Fez in Margate.

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