Paul Messinger – The Reckoning
7 songs – 33 minutes
One of the earliest disciples of Howard Levy, the former Bela Fleck & The Flecktones front man who revolutionized harmonica with his advancement of overblow techniques, singer, songwriter and poet Paul Messinger is a voice of reason in a troubled world, something he proves time and time again on this thought provoking disc, which blends blues, roots and Americana in a pleasant, but hard to categorize fashion.
A native New Yorker now based out of Chapel Hill, N.C., Messinger is a rare talent who’s cut out of the same cloth as Bob Dylan in the ‘60s or Gil Scott-Heron in the ‘70s. Both served as the musical conscience of their generation, lightning rods for criticism, but talents whose lyrics were imbued with social commentary that addressed inequities in the hope of initiating change.
Today, Paul walks a similar but different path.
It began about a decade ago with Climb Jacob’s Ladder, a deeply personal disc that came about as Messinger was recovering from the loss of his son at age 21. Two more albums – America 2.0: Assorted Tales and New Myth and Love Will Find You: 9 Degrees of Relationship – followed as Messenger honed his style, which comes across as an intimate communication with the listener.
Like his previous two releases, The Reckoning is an all-original project that comes complete with an illustrated booklet of lyrics for further consumption. The disc features Messinger in multiple configurations, backed by Jason Merritt, who produced, on guitars, backing vocals and on keys along with Peter Lucey with Keenan Jenkins provided additional six-string atop a rhythm section composed of bassist Robert Sledge and percussionist Morgan Davis.
Recorded live in studio, guest artists include 2019 International Blues Challenge winner Jon Shain, Richard Welsh and Jeremey Haire (guitars), Todd Parrott (harmonica), Tim Smith (horns), Raney Hayes and FJ Ventre (vocals).
A warm harp/guitar intro kicks off “The Reckoning,” a gentle ballad, which stops at a Starbucks in Missouri before a prodigious rain and travel on to Montana, where the weather’s different but problems of poverty and impending doom remain. As Messinger repeats the incessant lyrics, “We are all head-ing, toward a Reckoning,” that his message is a metaphor that runs much deeper.
Blues lovers will get a kick out of the tune that follows. “The Epic Saga of Jason Ricci’s Socks” is a bluesy, medium-paced shuffle that gives Paul space to put his harp skills on display. Apparently, it’s a third-person account of something Ricci experienced and relayed in conversation, recounting a three-day jail stay after a brush with the law. As Messinger states: “Now, Jason Ricci was no Saint. But let’s be clear…he was alright” because he gifted his socks to another, barefoot inmate to ward off the chill of the long night.
“Jesus Will Understand,” meanwhile, pays tribute to U.S. Marines in Afghanistan and the night terrors they endure after returning home. A cascade of notes open the uptempo “The Truth Will Do,” which stresses the need to be honest while maintaining your own individuality and personality.
A reprise of the French nursery rhyme “Frere Jacques” opens “Time 2 Take th’ Guns,” a straightforward plea to a nation riddled with anger, violence and fear. The slow blues “Hungry for Love” brightens the mood as it describes the thoughts running through the mind of a lonely man while penning a letter to Dear Abby.
The disc closes with “War Evermore.” Adapted from a song Bob Marley wrote based on a 1936 address delivered by Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, to the League of Nations in the ‘30s, it’s a multi-tracked paean to peace that incorporates Hindu imagery and a reggae beat atop a complex textural arrangement to drive its message home.
Available through CDBaby and several digital download sites, the blues themes are woven into the fabric of this one throughout. It’s a great listen for anyone whose musical tastes run outside of the box. Strongly recommended for those among us who are searching for a voice to lead us out of the current wilderness. Messinger is a master craftsman who deserves a far broader audience.