Carly Johnson is a celebrated Louisville, KY, singer with the pipes to smack you to attention, demolishing genre preconceptions and artistic cynicism in one fell swoop. Her classic jazz, soul, and R&B vibes are a soothing balm to any soul (not just a tortured or troubled soul; any soul) that is lucky enough to encounter her music. With a debut album out December 4th, 2020, via SonaBLAST! Records, we’ve definitely run out of excuses not to appreciate this stunning artist. The eponymous Carly Johnson takes the soaring pop balladry of Adele and mixes a dry cocktail – all vodka, no vermouth – with Amy Winehouse-esque style and swagger. It’s powerful, direct stuff, and there’s even a Bonnie “Prince” Billy feature in there for ya.
As Carly gears up for the next step in her fifteen-year musical career, we invite her to explore her most foundational inspirations in this Stereo Six session. With some rock and soul classics, and one ‘ultimate curveball,’ Carly’s list is a brief, personal look at the major necessities in any musical education, especially so for an aspiring artist in the jazz and soul worlds. Enjoy Carly’s powerful music and make a mental note to revisit these classic albums.
1. The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour (1967, Parlophone/Capitol Records)
“I fell in love with The Beatles in fourth grade. This love has only grown stronger and deeper over time and really spans their entire catalogue, but it all started for me with Magical Mystery Tour. I had a cassette that my dad made me with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on one side and MMT on the other. I was particularly obsessed with the track “Your Mother Should Know,” and I remember that my walkman didn’t have a rewind button, so I had to keep flipping the tape and fast-forwarding it to replay that song…which I did over and over. After those two albums, I really fell in love with A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and soon all of the other records followed. I was totally captured by their originality and the morphing of completely different sounds and genres within each record, while still being distinctly themselves no matter how much they changed as their careers went on.”
2. Aerosmith – Get a Grip (1993, Geffen Records)
“Seeing Aerosmith on their Get a Grip tour as an eight-year-old was my first concert (probably waaay too young for that show, thanks Dad!) and I’ll never forget the way that Steven Tyler just let it rip and truly wailed. I fell in love with that freedom and found it again years later with Ann Wilson’s voice in Heart, especially on Dreamboat Annie.”
3. Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard – Original Soundtrack (1992, Arista Records)
“Whitney’s songs on this record undoubtedly changed the trajectory of my vocal growth. The way her voice could hold your beating heart in the palm of her hand with whisper-quiet intimacy and then smack you in the face with a pure, soaring belt of sheer power seconds later, was beyond inspiring.”
4. Etta James – At Last! (1960, Argo Records)
“Etta’s force, grit, and deep range really woke me up to the soul of the 60s. For sure, she was queen of the 12/8 ballad…someone that can sing over two chords and create a masterpiece. Etta also ultimately led me to explore jazz standards and the women that defined it. I was lucky enough to get to see her perform live on my eighteenth birthday; her voice had dropped about an octave since her early recordings…and she still sounded sooo good.”
5. Sarah Vaughan – Sarah Vaughan (1954, EmArcy Records)
“Sarah, like Ella Fitzgerald, had one of those voices with range that would dip way down deep and then just slide right up to the very top with unmatched fluidity. Her improv solos were always so naturally beautiful and instinctive, and I’ve always loved the thick, bellowing richness in her voice. “Lullaby of Birdland” is one of my favorite tracks from her. She’s one of many incredible women that shaped the sound of the long jazz career I’ve been so lucky to have.”
6. Ultimate Curveball: New Kids on the Block – Hangin’ Tough (1988, Columbia)
“Because those dudes know how to have fun…and, more importantly, Jordan Knight’s fierce falsetto taught me allll about those high notes at such a young age. All my “Please Don’t Go Girl” dreams came true a few years back when I went to one of their comeback concerts and Joey McIntyre held my hand from the crowd during one of their songs…I cherish my photographic evidence of this moment.”