Big H Records – 2015
11 tracks; 48 minutes
Joe Rusi is a Norwegian singer and guitarist and his album is released on the same label as last year’s CD from Joakim Tinderholt which made the Blues Blast Awards short list for debut release in 2015. This album was recorded in New Orleans with Joe on guitar and vocals, producer Arne Skage on lap steel and guitar, John ‘Papa’ Gros on keys, George Porter Jr (The Meters) on electric bass, James Singleton on double bass, Doug Belote (Tab Benoit and many others) or Johnny Vidacovich on drums, Kjell Martin Simes on percussion and a horn section of Mark Mullins (trombone), Alonzo Bowens (tenor sax), Christian Sunde (baritone and alto sax) and Bobby Campo (trumpet); Leslie Blackshear Smith, Kiki Phillips and Inge Svege add backing vocals. Joe wrote most of the songs, assisted on lyrics by Amelia Rusi, Leslie B Smith and Kevin Steinmann, and there are covers of two classic New Orleans artists.
The album opens with a great cover of Earl King’s “Make A Better World” with its infectious “sing, sing, sing” chorus. Joe has a slight accent but it barely affects one’s enjoyment, especially on repeated listens. A swaggering horn arrangement and strong backing vocals drive “He Ain’t Good At Loving You”, a cautionary tale of a guy who sounds like a bad sort generally, Joe taking a fine, stinging solo towards the end. “Seven” is a quieter tune with some jazzy guitar chords and good organ work from John and is followed by three tunes with ‘Blues’ in the titles: the slowly grooving “One Shade Of Blue” finds Joe in close harmony with the female backing singers, the fluid double bass a feature; “Sunday Morning Blues” takes a funky approach to combat the hangover from Saturday night; and what better way to celebrate recording in New Orleans than to record an Allen Toussaint tune and “Brickyard Blues” works splendidly for Joe with piano, slide and lap steel combining on a fine version of the song steeped in NO style.
The mid-paced break-up song “Falling Out Of Love” has a fine horn chart and the title track “Who I Am” finds Joe semi-speaking the lyrics over moody bass lines and organ work before he lays down some fine guitar. “Gipsy Rolling Stone” is an extended tune that runs over six minutes and provides plenty of space for guitar and organ solos in support of Joe’s soulful vocals. A familiar line in ending relationships is turned on its head in “It’s Not Me, It’s You” which returns to the horn-driven NO sounds over some very funky drumming from Johnny Vidacovich. Closing track “If Only Tonight” is a quiet ballad with gentle acoustic and lap-steel work behind some gentle lead guitar from Joe, the horns also taking a very subtle approach to their supporting role.
This was my first experience of Joe Rusi’s music and I was impressed by this album which combines some thoughtful songs with New Orleans flavors.