Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson
Shanachie / SRT Entertainment (release date: May 4, 2018)
By Bob Marovich
It’s been 20 years since Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson appeared on the national gospel scene, introducing the traditional quartet sound to a new generation of listeners.
He continues his crusade to blend the old school with the new on Keep Pushin’.
Though billed as a solo project, Johnson has plenty of help from a battery of singers, including Prathan “Spanky” Williams, Josh Miles, Ray Braswell Jr., and Karen Clark. Together, they traverse musically diverse territory, though most of it remains grounded in tradition—none more so than the Holy Ghost workout, “You Ought to Testify.” The funky title track has been garnering radio play over the past several months. And “Can’t You See God Working” and “I’m Gonna Make It” have that long, drawn out, dare-I-say bluesy feel, though the message is anything but the blues.
Indeed, the album’s main themes move from faith and encouragement in troubled times to gratitude for blessings bestowed. Be thankful for what you’ve got, Johnson sings, because it could have been different. For example, on “I Love My Life,” he and the song’s composer Josh Myles focus on the small pleasures of life in a world where there are unhappy millionaires. The duo shrugs: “I’m not rich – so what?” To which Johnson jokes: “I don’t have hair – so what!”
“God is Able” has a Morris Day and the Time vibe, while “The Man,” a story song about a sinner seeking salvation, includes sweet and high doo-wop harmonies. “O Lord We Worship You” is Johnson’s nod to the acoustic guitar-led praise sound that has risen in popularity of recent years, though it’s clear his sweet spot is the earthier, rootsy gospel that brought him thus far.
Regardless of the musical backdrop, the constant is Johnson’s voice: like the late Joe Ligon, Johnson can shout, squall, and pull on the preacher’s cadence to get his message across.
With a score of talented musicians to work with, the team of producers gives the album a big sound. Keep Pushin’ is Wonderboy’s first album for his childhood friend D.A. Johnson’s SRT Entertainment, but the only change is the label.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Keep Pushin’,” You Ought to Testify”