CD: 10 Songs; 35:49 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues, Blues Rock
The moon has long been a symbol of mystery, shadow and secrets. Wolves (and sometimes people) howl at it; ambitious folk shoot for it; astronauts fly to it; and New York’s Willie May deems it Blues Mona. Indeed, the CD cover art depicts a shining three-quarter gibbous, with the remaining fourth illuminated by a single sparkle. Track three of this album, “Mona’s Watchful Eye,” further expands upon this concept. If the moon represents an enigma, so, too, does the sixteenth release from this artist. It would be fantastic, were it not for this fact: It doesn’t contain songs so much as it does monologues set to music. This effect isn’t entirely off-putting, but die-hard singing fans might wish upon the moon that Willie May had more of a range in his vocals. He may not be the Freddie Mercury of the blues, or even the Frank Sinatra, but he and his fellow musicians have put tremendous effort into Blues Mona. For that alone, it’s worth a listen. On ten original tracks, May explores what drives rabid blues aficionados to be darn-near “luna-tics”.
According to May’s website, “Willie has taken his original blend of music to the blues clubs from The LaFayette Tap Room in Buffalo to Antones in Austin, TX, The Black Swan in Toronto, The Penny Arcade in Rochester, The Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse, Hard Rock Café [in] Niagara Falls, The Slippery Noodle in Indianapolis, Fat Fish Blue in Cleveland, Bflo Blues in Pittsburgh, and to countless other venues on thousands, yes thousands, of occasions…The Willie May Band is a 5 time Buffalo Area Music Award winner voted Western New York Blues Beat Magazine’s Band of the Year.” This reviewer has rarely seen a modern blues artist so prolific.
Along with May (vocals, guitar, bass, dobro, baritone guitar, ukulele, kalimba, and Jew harp) are are fellow guitarists Hayden Fogle and Ron Kain; Chris Panfil on fiddle; backing vocalists Dwane Hall, Mark Panfil, and Sharon Bailey; drummers Owen Eichensehr, Randy Bolam, Randy Corsi, Ray Hangen and Tom Lafferty; bassists Harvey Murello, Tom Corsi and Robert Parker; upright bassist Jim Whitford; saxophonists Ken Parker and Larry Cheeley; Kevin Espinosa on harmonica; Evan Laedke on organ; piano and keytar; and Mark Panfil on accordion, banjo, dobro, harmonica, and background vocals.
The following song puts these musicians to their best test, and they shine in their full glory:
Track 05: “Surf Mona Blues” – Who says blues and ‘beach-bum’ music don’t mix? This instrumental proves that they can, and do, quite well. What’s the catchiest: Larry Cheeley’s sizzling saxophone, Robert Parker’s thrumming bass, or Ray Hangen’s drums? Call it a draw on this instrumental throwback to the 1950’s. It’ll take more than one punch of the “repeat” button to catch all of the musical lines and different sounds on this track, but the effort will be worth it.
Blues fans, if what you’re looking for is complex, multi-layered instrumental showmanship instead of powerhouse pipes, Blues Mona will definitely take you to the moon and back!