I have to admit, I was not familiar with Wilko Johnson when I first heard of this project. Daltrey, of course, is quite a known quantity — he’s one of the best frontmen in all of rock as the vocalist for the Who — and I was really curious to see what he was doing on someone else’s record. When I read the story behind Going Back Home, I was floored. Turns out Wilko Johnson — former guitarist of the pub rock band Dr. Feelgood — was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2013, and took up Daltrey‘s offer to record an album with him. Because Johnson was expected to die in less than a year’s time, there is a palpable sense throughout Going Back Home that both he and Daltrey were making the most of whatever time Johnson had left. Miraculously, Johnson has survived — doctors eventually were able to surgically remove the tumor (which apparently weighed three kilograms), along with several organs — but Going Back Home captures a raw, celebratory presence in the sessions.
Johnson is spectacular — the muscle and recklessness he packs into his bluesy playing carries the weight (or lack thereof) of not having anything to lose — and Daltrey‘s vocals haven’t sounded so suited to an instrumental framework since at least the ’70s. (Probably since Quadrophenia.) The end result is a positively delightful album that begs to be played on repeat. The bluesy vibe rocks, Daltrey hasn’t sounded this good in decades (though to be fair, the Who haven’t made a relevant album in years), the songs benefit from a tight construction, and the entire record unfolds at a fearless, furious velocity, as if Johnson will be dead and Daltrey will be too old by the time the music gets to where it’s headed. This is highly pleasurable music for those who have developed a taste for bluesy rock.