At last, comes the highly anticipated debut CD release of pianist/ composer Earl “Big Juicy” Johnson, Jr. He has been heralded as one of the premiere composers/ producers of his era with an electric style that is nothing short of awesome. Earl’s music is cognitive and funky, even soul- wrenching. With his fiery solo style, complete with some delicious finger work, he has captivated audiences on five continents. But, after working with many of the music industry’s top legends, Earl blasts out front with this project. Talk about the ‘it’ factor, this guy’s got it in a major way. Earl’s debut release takes you on a complete musical journey with ten original masterpieces. He makes the piano sing with all of the finesse and fluidity of a modern- day virtuoso.
The project simply entitled, “Juicy,” is an eclectic look into the mind of this prolific producer and songwriter. Each song pulls you deeper into Earl’s musical world and leaves you in high anticipation of what’s to come next. There will be no skipping around on this CD. You will definitely want to hear every song from start to finish. Whether you are listening to one of the highly charged (virtually danceable) red- hot tracks or one of the soulful, pensive ballads, your musical soul will be exalted.
Since graduating from Boston’s Berklee College of Music with a degree in Film Scoring, Earl has been very busy. His command of several writing and playing styles has afforded him the opportunity to work / tour with some of the music industry’s top legends including Patti Austin, Brian McKnight, Chaka Khan, Jeffrey Osborne, Beyonce, Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Kenny Lattimore, and R. Kelly to name a few. Earl has composed dramatic underscores for several film and television projects. He is a prolific producer and has made arrangements for many Recording Artists including K Ci and JoJo, Chante Moore, and T.C. Carson. He has served as Musical Director for Gerald Albright, Marla Glen, Terry Dexter, Najee, Freda Payne, T.C. Carson, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and “Theotrilogy,” to name a few. Earl is also very comfortable in orchestral settings. He has conducted orchestras for a variety of musical situations including the wedding of actress Lela Rochon (“Waiting to Exhale”) and Director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day.”) Earl’s mastery of the piano and keyboards has captivated audiences around the world; most notably as Keyboardist and Featured Soloist with Chaka Khan.
The first track on the CD, entitled “412,” grabs your attention immediately with a powerful, highly charged groove. Inspired by the address where he was born and raised, Earl builds the infectious melody with a strong, yet simple motif. A fiery exchange of solos rounds out the first installation of this genre- defying project. Next up is the sensual, “Unfinished Business.” This ballad not only takes you on a romantic journey, it also gives you an intimate “first- taste” of Earl’s vocal abilities (he sang backgrounds for Brian McKnight for three years.) You will definitely lose yourself within this piece as Earl choreographs an intimate ballet on the piano. The third track, entitled “That Thang” ramps it up again in true “party anthem” fashion. This song embodies the true essence of “real music- real playing.” Earl breaks out the solo synthesizer for this one, telling his “funky musical fable” almost as if he’s actually “talking” to you. Complete with some tasty solo work from the guitar, you will most certainly understand the meaning of this title. Guest vocalist Tim “Tio” Owens brings a whole new dimension to the project with the ballad, “Full of Empty.” The essence of Earl lyrics come alive as Tim sings about a heartbreak from the male perspective. Again, Earl lends his crafty vocal skills to the background work. This song will leave you anything but “empty.” Fasten your seatbelt for the title track, “Juicy.” It is impossible not to feel good as you listen to Earl cut loose on this one with all of the virtuosity that its title suggests. “Juicy” will grab the attention of both the jazz enthusiast and the R&B listener as well. Simply put, the title says it all!! In an unexpected, yet refreshing twist, Earl introduces the spoken word element to the project with “Possibilities.” Guest poet Solange Sheppy tells the sensual tale of a workplace “fantasy.” Move over, “Love Jones!!” “Wrap your arms around me, hold me- whisper sweet nothings into my ear.” That’s the embodiment of “Tasha’s Way,” a track inspired by Earl’s wife (who’s nickname is Tasha.) Earl shares a bit of his own fantasy in this ballad, as you’ll probably hear. It’s back to the dance floor with “Last Time.” This hot, club jam is sung by guest vocalist Shannon Pearson, who lights the melody on fire as she tells her tale if infidelity and the personal strength she musters up to say that there “won’t be a ‘next time,’ not this time!!” Close your eyes, open your mind, and imagine sitting in a quaint jazz café as you listen to Earl dance with his first love on the next track entitled, “Requiem.” This pensive tapestry is an inspiring reflection on the initial inspiration that started it all for Earl, the acoustic piano. “Requiem” will speak to your soul. Last, but certainly not least, comes the punchy ode entitled, “Getaway.” This is the only track on the project where Earl performs exclusively. From the taunting bass line to the layered atmospheric colors, this track shows Earl’s skills in all of its magnificent splendor. With no shortage of virtuosity, Earl puts a nice period at the end of this musical debut that can be described as nothing short of brilliant.
“Juicy” has something for everybody. Whether you are in the mood for kicking back with a glass of wine or hitting the dance floor, this CD will definitely satisfy.