Dirty Mojo Blues Band – It Is What It Is
Self-release – 2021
13 tracks; 53:02
The first thing you notice about Dirty Mojo Blues Band’s It Is What It Is is singer Shawn Strickland’s voice, which has a Howlin’ Wolf roughness to it. That, coupled with a band as tight as 70s trousers, makes everything sound bluesy, even as the group explores musical styles beyond classic blues.
Take “Black Water,” which starts with a simple drum beat, slide guitar and organ rolling in to officially kick the song off. Strickland comes in singing, his raw voice sounding like he’s been up yelling all night. But the beauty of something so rough is that it transports you. Just like movie directors will use a grand establishing shot to give viewers a sense of place, Strickland’s voice lets you know that whatever the band does, it’s rooted in the blues. Of course, that’s easier with a track like “Black Water,” with its dueling slide guitars (courtesy of Chris Carithers and guest Al Meck), as well as soulful harmonica from Strickland.
But his voice also carries you away on “Toy for You,” which is more spiritual, Strickland singing with background singers, almost like a choir. The band uses a funky soul groove that’s low-key, allowing the band to stretch out, including harmony guitar lines. With different vocals, the song would feel more rock and roll or rhythm and blues, but thanks to Strickland’s singing, it lands like a classic blues. So much so, that when he stops singing to let the band jam out a bit, your thoughts immediately drift to the Allman Brothers Band, the pure blues spell broken.
If “Toy For You” feels like the future, “Ain’t Sayin She’s Crazy” feels like the past. The acoustic track has a 50s country blues vibe, complete with dobro. It makes for some time-traveling dizziness, hearing a voice like Strickland’s, that sounds like it belongs with 1960s electric blues, going back for the more country-jazz blues that preceded it. But the different layers of eras make for a more interesting track.
And then there are tunes like “Stranger Blues,” which is straight-up blues rock, where you can imagine what kind of live show Dirty Mojo Blues Band must put on. It’s the aforementioned 1960s-style electric blues, a la Paul Butterfield Blues Band, that makes perfect sense for the band.
And that’s what makes It Is What It Is a fun album. The band understands its strengths, and delivers plenty of fast blues songs that they can flawlessly execute, but they’re also brave enough to work with different song styles, rightfully confident that their strong blues roots will always keep them centered.