Album Review – Brent Johnson’s “Set the World on Fire”


What is fire? The dictionary states it is, “substances combined chemically with oxygen producing a bright light, heat, and smoke.” It doesn’t happen often but an explosion took place when Brent Johnson released his debut album, Set the World on Fire.

After touring for eleven years with the one and only “Braille Blues Daddy,” Bryan Lee, it was time. It was time to “turn the page,” take a “leap of faith,” with his first nicely done solo project. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have people in the studio like Alvin Youngblood Hart, Sonny Landreth, Bill Blok, John Perkins, and Wayne Lohr to fuel the fire. What is also unique about this album is Brent produced his project, making Set the World on Fire his own. With some very good musicians and effective down to earth storytelling, this album will be heard, there is no doubt.  This is an album as Brent puts it, that puts “emphasis on feeling of the music, with passion, urgency, and directness.” In other words, this one is his baby, and a very good offspring, if I might add.

Brent opens up with a nicely done tune called, “Don’t Make A Sound.” He is a good storyteller here talking about the bright lights of night before ending in the morning with regret and blurred vision. As he sings this piece you can almost feel the regret in his voice. So many have fallen into this habit. As he sings about the morning after he states “there is so much conversation,” but he doesn’t understand anything. It sounds like another one-sided conversation that she is probably so used to as she runs the numbers. I like the line, “Her Hands wrapped around her cocktail glass,” like he is the glass. As he continues through the piece, he talks about things like this “mess”, being “tired” and “ no rest,” in his emotional state. I like the line, “Like a dream,” “I try to scream.” For our character, this is not a dream but a nightmare, playing itself over and over again like a skipping broken record. But through it all, Brent’s character is not a saying a word. Talking would make his dream a reality, and making her as the “devil” she is. Another line that caught my attention is, “Where are you going after the show?” You have to wonder who is performing here. Is it he or she? Throughout the song, he keeps quiet, even at her request. Then with “the damage done, no way to turn around,” silence is golden. “Don’t Make A Sound” is a blues piece filled with guilt and remorse. Even the well-done guitar solo by Brent toward the end of the piece plays into the character’s emotion as if the guitar is coming off with a “scream.” Always, “Don’t Make A Sound.”

Brent’s next composition, “The Ticket,” is one of my favorites. It’s just good “ole fashioned” rhythm and blues rock and roll. I really like the hook in this song. “Don’t buy the ticket if you don’t want to take the ride.” It gets your attention quickly and makes you stay with the piece till the end. One line is quite well said, “If I’d stayed solo, and avoided this messy duet,” how would life be? I wonder how many times people have said that? Let’s see, the divorce rate is about 45%. OK, never mind. Musically, the piece has a spot on keyboard solo that adds a nice bite to the tune.

Another track that caught my attention is “Long Way Back To New Orleans.” The slide guitar sound of Sonny Landreth makes this piece come alive with a New Orleans sound. I particularly like the percussion on this piece as well. For me, it sounds like someone playing right in the middle of Bourbon Street, New Orleans in front of a live audience. This tune has a very catchy beat. The end of the track talks about getting back to New Orleans to have satisfaction. This writer is very satisfied. “Long Way Back To New Orleans” is a keeper.

Another interesting piece is “Glass Ceiling.” As I listen to the song from beginning to end, it sounds like “Glass Ceiling” could be referring to a very fragile relationship that is about to shatter at any second. As you listen to the second line, “Cause when I look up I get a sinking feeling,” the ceiling is impossible to reach, it’s a ceiling that one cannot reach simply because one cannot see where the ceiling begins and ends. As stated, Brent seems to tell stories within his music that are true to nature. Here, it looks like he is in a no win situation, regardless of the good intentions and effort. “Your good advice is getting hard to swallow.” “If its right today, its wrong tomorrow.” This song is about “real” people with “real” issues. It’s an anecdote about someone trying so hard to please another, but they cannot see the bar for the interference. “Building up a crumbling dream,” “out of the wreckage I’ll come out clean.” I have the feeling the song speaks of her dreams, not his.

To add to Set the World on Fire, Brent made some excellent choices covering some very awesome songs like “Meet Me In The Morning,” a well-known Bob Dylan song as well as John Lee Hooker’s “Meet Me in the Bottom.” Both pieces were flawless and fit perfect in his repertoire. Through it all, the whole album is so well done, especially for a debut project. I believe this is only the beginning for Brent Johnson. He has a great foundation to stand on with Set the World on Fire, which should take him to the next level. But for now, listeners will need to set their sites on Set the World on Fire, and that should be no problem at all.

This is Brent Johnson, and he just Set the World on Fire.

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