12 cuts/47 minutes
The next generation of blues men is well equipped if Mikey Junior is any measure of what is coming down the pike. A stalwart of the East Coast blues scene, Mikey Junior is aptly supported with great production by Dave Gross and a style that just bares it all. The harp work is visceral; there is a raw emotion in what he blows that make the small hairs on the back of your neck stand up and take notice. It is music to both hear and to feel.
His vocals are both gruff and gritty and yet full of sweet emotion. He growls and he purrs as he goes through the set list with what seems like telling us a bunch of dirty little secrets. The rawness of the harp is amplified by the guttural guitar sounds by Gross and Dean Shor. Jeremy Baum adds the keys, Matt Raymond is the bassist and Michael Bram is on drums. This East Coast “mafia” of New York State area blues musicians coupled with this harp master from Pennsylvania are the real deal.
From the opening strains of the harmonica introduction on the title cut that opens the CD I was sold. It did not take several listens to grow on me, tis music just reached out and grabbed me and said, “LISTEN!!!” And I gladly did. The cut twists and screams like a freight train that being held back that is trying to otherwise explode with power. The harp and guitar are distorted and dirty while the bass and drums provide an almost tribal beat that hypnotizes. Needless to say I was impressed right up front.
He continues with “No Body Does It Like Me,’ another dirty and down tempo price that allows Mikey to stoke the flames even higher. In “Morning On My Way” the band sets a groove Mikey sings around and Gross picks around masterfully to start and then Mikey lets loose with the harp solo from hell. He stays in minor keys and down tempo with “Mill Tavern” and yet we are energized by these cuts as Mikey sings of his woes and loves. “Katie Lynn” offers up a bass line that us so heavy the notes seem to break down into broken harmonic pieces as Mikey plans for his next rendezvous with Katie Lynn. His harmonic continues in it’s primordial wails, with bent notes and grunts that emote strong sentiments.
“Bad Time Blues” cleans things up a bit. The organ shifts modes from the dimensions of string theory back into our three dimensional world and the guitar, harp and backline are feature cleaner and less distorted. Mikey of course wails some more on his harp solos. This is amazingly cool stuff and Gross keep up with him delivering the goods. “The Cheat” continues in this vein as Mikey sings of his woman going behind his back. “You” make some interesting percussive statements as Mikey says goodbye to a woman who has taken apart his heart. More dark stuff but it’s just so good you want more. Mikey mixes up some strains that might open a western movie in “She’s Good At Being Bad” as he sings about the best girlfriend he never had. It sort of reminded me of a Clint Eastwood gun shootout that was brewing.
The tempo makes a marginal step up with “Please Come Back” as Mikey asks his woman to come back. The band “strolls” through this one rhythmically and Gross supplies a huge stinging guitar solo as Baum echoes him on the keys. “Wrong Number” is a ballad where Mikey again talks to his woman about coming back, more broken heartedness and lost romances. Mikey closes acoustically with “Trying To Do The Best I Can,” where Mikey sings about, well, you can guess.
There is a lot of hurt emotions being expressed here. The album lacks the occasional big, driving, up-tempo song that changes the pace from time to time, and yet I found myself absorbed by the down tempo, minor keys and pain expressed here. Mikey Junior definitely has the blues.
This is Mikey’s ninth CD release and first on the Vizztone label; he also has a DVD to his credit; he’s quite the prolific musician with all these titles produced in a mere dozen or so years. I was quite impressed with the emotion and feelings expressed here as I was with the wanton abandon of the the vocals, harp and guitar. Strong stuff. The piano and organ are used as filler to weave a stronger feeling to the cuts and the backline duo are just stellar, too. While this might not be the music one should listen to while trying to get weaned from depression, it just might be what the doctor ordered to let see that in comparison to what Mikey is singing about that maybe your relations just aren’t that bad. I highly recommend this CD. It was quite the album of original stuff!