Alabama Mike – Stuff I’ve Been Through
Little Village – 2023
11 tracks; 61 minutes
Alabama Mike (Benjamin) is a fine vocalist who has featured on several albums recorded at Greaseland Studios in recent times; he also helped finish the last album by the Andy T Band when Nick Nixon’s health declined and was a featured vocalist on Junior Watson’s 2019 album Nothing To It But To Do It. I believe that this is his fifth solo album since 2005 and it’s a fine, all original effort that combines catchy tunes with both serious and comic messages. There is a large cast of musicians, producer Kid Andersen on guitar throughout, Bobby Young playing on four cuts and heavyweight guests Rusty Zinn and Anson Funderburgh appearing on one cut each: keyboards are shared between Jim Pugh and Lorenzo Hawkins, bass between Jerry Jemmott, AJ Joyce and Endre Tarczy and drums between Derrick ‘D’Mar’ Martin and Ronnie Smith; Lisa Leuschner Andersen and Vicki Randle share the backing vocals, Vicki also adding percussion. Horns are by Bernard Anderson and Doug Rowan (sax), Mike Rinta (trombone) and Jeff Lewis (trumpet) and strings by Don Dally and Lars Anderson. Mike himself is on lead vocals throughout and plays harmonica on one track, Rick Estrin playing on the other cut with harp.
The album opens with the title track, a personal statement about getting through hard times: “Stuff I’ve been through would have killed the average man, but by the grace of God, here I stand”. It’s a big production number with Jerry Jemmott’s bass underpinning dramatic strings and powerful horns, Rusty Zinn’s central solo catching the mood of the lyrics. Alternating serious and comic songs, Mike decries what he calls ‘fat shaming’ in a bouncing, funky number in which he recognizes that he may be overweight, but he is not willing to let people “Fat Shame” him. Amongst the great lines in the song are some serious criticism of airline JetBlue, plus we get this as part of the chorus: “I’m fat, I’m lit, you can’t tell me s**t”! California is not all streets of gold, as Mike tells us in the slow blues “This Ain’t No Disneyland” with the backing vocalists and mournful trumpet featured. In complete contrast “Goodbye Tamika” is an attractive soul tune with great horns and a terrific groove, albeit that the song celebrates the end of a relationship, the title character failing to live up to Mike’s standards, slumped on the couch watching TV and smoking dope – it’s a standout track on the album.
“King Cock” is a classic tale of the metaphorical strutting rooster who dominates the barnyard and “Pine Bluff Arkansas” pays tribute to the classic ‘big fine woman’ on a swirling blues with good horns and features Mike’s only harp work here. More women troubles abound on “Woman On The Warpath”, complete with drumming that fits the title and a heavy production with big guitars and horns, another excellent track. Mike then adopts the suave soul singer model as he half sings, half talks about his ability to “improve your mood” as he is ‘Mr DC’ – “Damage Control”. We return to a second part of “Fat Shame” which closes the studio album, but be sure to also check out the video for the song on YouTube, it’s great fun!
Added to the album are two live cuts. The first is “Mississippi”, recorded in San José, CA, with Rick Estrin sitting in on harmonica, a blues tribute to the state with great piano from Jim Pugh and D’Mar’s exciting drum work; Mike works the crowd brilliantly, getting them involved in spelling out the name and warning them that only one state has previously messed it up. Mike’s regular set closer is “God Is With You”, on this occasion taped in Basel, Switzerland at Patrick Kaiser’s Groove Now sessions. Lisa Andersen shares the vocals and shows herself to be a fine gospel-soaked singer, the extended tune making a great finale to a fine album that may well figure in the awards lists later in the year.