Sometimes, there are people who come along, singing in such a familiar way that the spirit of a soul legend seems to have manifested within them. For Carly Johnson, that would be Etta James, as the two share the sort of voice that can rile listeners into fiery elation, or ease them into a blue velvet-lined dream.
In her current group, Carly Johnson & The Believers, Johnson reaches the full transition to bandleader, backed by an immaculate dozen local players. Her first album of originals, a powerhouse record titled The Believer, is slated to release in spring 2018, but in anticipation of the album, Matt Anthony’s Record Shop is presenting its first vinyl pressing, the 7-inch single/b-side “Hit the Ground Running”/ “Eternally Hopeful,” which will be available at the band’s show on Saturday, Nov. 25 at Mercury Ballroom.
“It’s a definite departure from what people know me as,” she said. “I’ve been so fortunate to sing jazz around Louisville for the past six years … I think it has a lot to do with how much Louisville embraces music.”
Known for her commanding voice and wide repertoire, Johnson learned soul from Aretha Franklin and Etta James, pop from Whitney Houston and falsetto from Jordan Knight. For the last two years, she alternated between Louisville and San Diego to complete the album with co-writer Charlotte Littlehales. “It meant a lot to me to make something like this with another woman,” said Johnson, who recorded The Believer at La La Land Studios in Louisville. “Because I feel like in this industry it’s really male dominated … A lot of people don’t associate vocalists as musicians, which is a shame. I don’t see my male counterparts being asked the same questions.”
Carly Johnson & The Believers perform at The Mercury Ballroom on Saturday, Nov. 25. Otis Junior and Jesse Lees open. $12-$25.