Samuel Johnson and the Remains
Devil Won’t Leave Me Be

After the disbandment of local hard-rock band Number One Contender in 2009, singer/songwriter Samuel Johnson (a.k.a. Reid Johnson) launched his first solo project as Samuel Johnson and the Remains. His debut collection, a five-track E.P. titled The Devil Won’t Leave Me Be, is an eclectic blend of songwriting styles, reflecting his rock, R&B, and country influences, as well as his years with N.O.C. as lead vocalist.

On The Devil Won’t Leave Me Be, Johnson’s strong, passionate, but controlled singing is complemented by smooth phrasing and harmonies as the songs flow throughout the collection. The first track, “Clouds,” demonstrates Johnson’s broad vocal range and style — sort of a mix of Freddie Mercury and Axl Rose. Evan Lampkin’s piano and Hammond organ enhance the spirit of the lyrics, “Put your head up in the clouds/If you miss what you’re needing/Find what you’re seeking/So why don’t you join me” as Johnson’s voice grows fuller, climaxes, and then releases into an airy finish.

Johnson’s vulnerable side is reflected in the lamenting “Why,” which breaks from his hard rock days with N.O.C. by combining a piano, acoustic guitar, and slide guitar to create a classic rock/country blend to a strong beat. The soft harmony accentuates the mournful electric guitar, played by former bandmate Alan Price.

“Know You Betta” syncretizes hard rock and R&B with Jamey Rogers’ complex rhythms, Johnson’s vocals and harmony, and the underlying bass of Jon Holt (another former N.O.C. bandmate).

Johnson’s rock roots are revived in the pounding percussion and bass and the haunting piano of “Ability,” a song where he pulls out his clear, dramatic vocal styling to punctuate the harsh loneliness of modern life — a common thread throughout his writing. The acoustic presentation of “Illusion” highlights Johnson’s soulful voice with lyrics of bitter heartbreak: “She’s just another heartbreaker/I’m just another man down on his knees, Lord.”

Recorded at Collective Recordings in West Ashley by Price and Rogers, Devil Won’t Leave Me Be deserves praise for its polish, but the passion and artistry in Johnson’s songwriting really stands out. (