Mick Kolassa – Michissippi MickSwing Suit Records 2014
12 tracks; 49 minutes
Mick Kolassa is a veteran blues fan and a board member of the Blues Foundation, based in Memphis. He is therefore well placed to assemble a fine array of current Beale Street blues players which includes a core band of Jeff Jensen on guitar (just nominated for the 2014 Blues Blast Awards), Bill Ruffino on bass, Doug McMinn on drums and Chris Stephenson on organ. Joining in the fun are Eric Hughes and Brandon Santini (another BB nominee) on harp, Victor Wainwright on piano, Reba Russell, Redd Velvet and Danny Banks on vocals, Dedrick Davis on trumpet and James Cunningham on percussion. Mick takes all lead vocals and plays some acoustic guitar and also wrote most of the material here. The album was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis and produced by Jeff Jensen. All the gross sales of the CD will go to two worthy charities: the HART fund and the Generation Blues program.
The CD offers a good variety of mainly original music, just five covers, starting with a relaxed acoustic updating of WC Handy’s “Beale Street Blues” which namechecks Eric Hughes who plays harp on this one. We can immediately hear that Mick has a decent voice and the band is working well together. A radical recasting of The Box Tops’ hit “The Letter” takes the song to a completely different place, turning it into a slow-build soul piece in which Reba Russell’s vocals are a particular feature as she testifies to great effect on the outro. “Reefer Man” (Russell Robinson, Andy Razaf, Steve Roberts, Joe Hoover) was a hit for Cab Calloway and, as Mick tells us in the intro, is over 80 years old (“I’ve been doing it myself for over forty!”). It’s an informal take on the song with plenty of background vocal interventions and Victor Wainwright’s piano. Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen’s “Blues In The Night” brings the trumpet into the mix, alongside some downhome harp from Brandon Santini and a plucked solo from Jeff, another wonderfully relaxed performance. A final cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mississippi River Blues” closes the album with another acoustic performance, including some of Jimmie’s trademark yodelling!
Otherwise it’s all Mick’s compositions starting in electric mode for Mick’s “Blues Are All Around You”, Jeff’s stinging guitar and Chris’ warm organ featuring strongly on an attractive mid-paced tune in which the blues are stalking poor Mick: “Walking down the street last night, blues came walking right up behind. Had to step inside a whiskey store, try to drink them off my mind”. “Burn That Bridge” puts Victor’s piano alongside Chris’ organ and Brandon’s harp plus Reba’s strong backing vocals – another excellent track which gets the feet tapping. “Land Of The Crossroads” is an acoustic tune with just Brandon’s harp set against acoustic guitars and a gentle rhythm section, Doug using brushes very effectively as Mick tells us of the efforts to keep the blues alive down in the Delta. “Baby’s Got Another Lover” is a slow blues that clocks in at over seven minutes, just the core band here, giving plenty of opportunity for guitarist Jeff to stretch out. Mick’s wistful vocal works very well on this classic piece of sad blues. “Blowtorch Love” is an uptempo tune with Brandon’s tough harp again featured and Jeff putting in some nice flourishes beneath Mick’s vocal. Redd Velvet shares verses with Mick with a voice that recalls Tina Turner, a nice addition. The two final originals both demonstrate Mick’s sense of humour. The amusing “WPD” features some echoey guitar from Jeff on a riff that comes from the Stones’ handbook – the title is explained as meaning ‘White People Dance’, so we understand where Mick is coming from here! “Time Ain’t On My Side” again features both Brandon and Victor on a rolling blues in which Mick explains that he is not getting any younger (something with which many of us can empathise): “ I get up in the morning, I can’t bend down to tie my shoes; my mind says ‘let’s boogie’, my body just flat out refuse.”
This is a solid album of blues with several excellent songs and many outstanding performances, plus it’s all in a good cause. There is therefore no reason for serious blues fans not to go out and buy this CD.