One Root Music
Mighty Mo Rodgers, born and raised in an Indiana steel town, released his first recording, Blues Is My Wailin’ Wall, in 1999 to wide-spread acclaim. He was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award in 2000 in the Best New Artist Debut category in addition to receiving the CHOC De L’Anne award in France for Blues Album Of The Year. All of his subsequent releases have featured Rogers’ compelling original songs that mix traditional blues with contemporary touches that never distract listeners from the stories and messages that the singer imparts in his deeply personal music.
His seventh release finds him going back to the African roots of the music, partnering with Malian singer and musician Baba Sissoko. They met at a concert Rodgers did in Lithuania, after a local promoter extended an invitation to Sissoko to attend the show. There was a nearly instant connection, which lead to this recording, the first of a trilogy the duo have planned,
In western Africa, the griot is the “keeper of the flame,” using stories, poems, and songs to maintain an oral history of his people. The storyteller aspect appeals to both musicians as they engage in a cultural exchange that allows Rodgers to explore the music roots of the blues, with Sissoko serving as his guide. Rogers handles vocals and all keyboards while Sissoko also sings in addition to playing the talking drum, ngoni, djembe, and kalimba. Other musicians include Luca Giordano on guitar, Walter Monini on bass, and Pablo Leoni on drums. The two leaders co-wrote all eleven songs, with Monini lending a hand on “Drunk As A Skunk”.
“Shake ‘Em Up Charlie” has a strong, reggae-flavored rhythm with Dale “Dizzy” Williams adding his guitar to the mix. Rodgers sings about Good Time Charlie while Sissoko answers with chants in his native dialect. The singers trace the music’s migration on “Mali To Mississippi,” which takes on a down-home feel through Daryl Dunmore’s harp blowing and the pervasive boogie licks. On both cuts Rodgers and Sisskodo refrain from trying to literally take the music back to it’s roots. Instead, the band plays solid blues progressions that Sissoko spices up with array of instruments. The slow blues “Nalu (Mother)” finds his voice soaring in praise until Rodgers takes over on a tribute to women around the world.
Sissoko uses the kalimba to great effect on “Demisenu (Children),” then Giordano executes some telling guitar licks on “The Blues Went To Africa,” followed by the Mali griot preaching a message on his talking drum. Rodgers relates a treatise on the intoxicating power of love on “Drunk As A Skunk,” with Giordano once again providing tasty guitar fills. The title track delves into the formation of their partnership complete with a gritty Rodgers vocal. The arrangement to “Djeli (Griot/Storyteller)” creates a swirling, danceable rhythm as the two leaders trade off the vocal. Guest Saint Willie uses his flute to lighten the mood created by the commanding drum lines on “Dokke (Dance)”. A brief hidden track finds the musicians giving thanks to one another while Sissoko provides the musical support.
The tri-fold CD packaging includes a booklet with photos and the lyrics for each song. Taken together, the various elements add up to a worthwhile melding of two musical styles that share common roots. Unlike other projects that attempt to go back to the roots, Rodgers and Sissoko searched for ways to adapt the African influences and instrumentation to the modern blues form. They succeed admirably, and leave listeners wondering what their next collaboration will sound like.