Issue 15-46 November 18, 2021

Cover photo © 2021 Michael Goza

 In This Issue 

Bucky O’Hare has our feature interview with Skylar Rogers. We have four Blues reviews for you this week including a book by Bobby Rush with Herb Powell plus new music from Colin James, Sue Foley and Mick Kolassa .

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 Featured Interview – Skylar Rogers 

image“My music is about life. I have a quote: ‘I believe that music survives the worst and celebrates the best.’ And that’s what my music does. It’s got somethin’ for whatever you’re feelin’. You know sometimes you get into that feeling you need the good whisky drinkin’ Blues song. Sometimes you need that inspirational song. You’ve got that angry song. You’ve got the, I hate to say, cut throat song. It’s a look into somebody’s life. I have a tendency, I’m really trying to work on this, I belt it in your face. (laughter in voice) I don’t always mean to do it, I’m really trying to work on kinda backing off. But, that tends to be my personality. I went from the person who was really quiet and timid and shy to belting it. And I think it was cause I was told I couldn’t do it. So now I figured out oh I can do it, okay. Well forget you and fool people that look like you. So I would say it comes out kinda in your face. And I don’t hold back.”

Skylar Rogers doesn’t hold back. A lifelong singer, Skylar started her professional music career just a few years ago in 2018 after a life of military service, truck driving, marriages – ups and downs, joys and heartaches. A daughter of Chicago, Skylar put in time in that fertile Blues nursery Memphis. But, even with this old school geographic Blues cred, Skylar is her own woman and her own artist. She is equally inspired by Tina Turner and Billy Joel (yes the Piano Man!). Her debut full length Firebreather released in January of 2021, is a Blues Rock blast of all original material that lives up to its title. With a hot, uniquely rocking band that she manicured to realize her artistic vision, Rogers says “I try to write about fictional stuff and I can’t do it.” She brings her whole self to her music and reveals her life and lessons learned.

Skylar’s inspiration for music has always been with her. “It’s as far back as I can remember,” she says “and that was probably 4 or 5 years old.” When you hear Skylar singing shades of Tina come swirling up: “Tina Turner, her voice, her story and my story, we mirror in a lot of ways. Her stage performance, I love her energy and I love her drive. I try to emulate that when I do my shows.” But, the undeniable grounding in Gospel phrasing is also there. There is something else too, something unique and her own. Skylar explains that when she was young:

“I remember sittin’ in a church and banging on a piano and just yellin’ at the top of my lungs. I got in trouble for that too, but it was just so much fun. But, I was also told that I couldn’t sing and it was because I sang differently than everybody else. I was becoming Classically trained at the Chicago Children’s Choir. Because I didn’t sing like everybody else I was told that I couldn’t sing so of course I joined a band. I joined a High School band and fell more in love with music. Made some incredible relationships and incredible friendships. I was gonna go study music, I was actually drum major in the band and well I decided to go into the military instead.”

Vanessa Hudson, Skylar’s mom, has been a constant source of inspiration and love. On Firebreather “If you listen carefully on ‘Back to Memphis’ she’s singing backgrounds,” she says. “We were in the studio and she was with me and I was like ‘Mom, come here.’” Ms. Hudson’s contribution on “Back to Memphis” is in many ways a culmination of the musical training she endowed on her daughter.

image“Oh my mom, I love listening to my mom sing. She taught me how to harmonize, she would just randomly do it. She’d be listening and just randomly do it. I used to think it was annoying at first when I was a kid ‘can we just listen to the song?’ But as I got older I realized that’s an art. And I do it now, when I’m listening to a song, just off the top of my head, I can pick up the harmony and do it and it’s because of her. My sister also sings and we sometimes will sing together. And I know this is kinda cheesy, but I’ll sit in my car and have the Billy Joel channel on and I’ll call her up and we’ll listen to it and we will sing. We have so many songs cause she listened to so many different records. We just randomly sing ‘em together. She’ll break out in a song and I’ll sing along with it. And one of us will start harmonizing and it’s just one of the things that we do, all 3 of us.”

Skylar didn’t take the straight line to pursuing her musical dreams. She took the winding road, that is not necessarily less traveled. Like many of the most innovative and meaningful artists in Blues and R&B history, Skylar took the leap later in life.

“I had just given up on music. I had gotten married, my second marriage, my husband decided ‘hey, you should try doing this again.’ No I’m okay, I’m singin’ to the trees I’m fine, the trees and the woodland creatures, okay, I’m fine. And he pushed me into a program. I didn’t want to do it, I really signed up on the last day that I could sign up. I went through the program and I met a lady (Susan Olsen), she was a vocal coach, and she wound up being my manager and we’ve just taken it from here. I honestly still can’t believe I’m doing this (laughs).”

And “doing this” she is. Nominated for a Blues Blast Award and numerous other industry accolades, Skylar found out the day before this interview that Firebreather and her powerful tune “Like Father Like Daughter” are being presented “for your consideration” to the Grammy nominating committee for a number of categories including Contemporary Blues Album. A deserving honor, Skylar’s work is so meaningful and deep because she writes from her own perspective and experiences and has an open heart to work with collaborators.

The process varies for her. “Overall it could be somethin’ that I can sit and write and erase, and write and erase until I burn a hole in the paper or it can come spilling out in 5 minutes.”

“I was totally pissed off when I wrote that song (‘Like Father Like Daughter’). I mean whole heartedly upset. I had just gotten into an argument with my father and it was Christmas night. I was so angry, in tears. That song start to finish was 20 minutes. But, there are some songs that I’ve been trying to fiddle along with for years. ‘Firebreather’ itself, the title track, was almost scrapped. I couldn’t come up with… the phrasing was off, the words were off, the pentameter was off. I just couldn’t do it and then finally I was in a writing session with Disco Fuzz (drummer turned guitarist in her band) and I said well let’s see what you got, let’s see if we can save this one, if not, it’s fine. And he said ‘well I’ve got a couple of licks I’ve been kinda saving for a rainy day.’ And when he pulled that first lick out my eyes just – I think my pupils dilated when I heard it. I think it was 3 hours later I said we got it, this is the title track. I decided this is it, this is the sound, this is what I’m going for.”

imageIn November 2018, Skylar released her first EP Insecurities. She had done her course in the Spring of that year and met her future manager. Insecurities was her first venturing into the industry pool. In more of a Contemporary Blues vein, Insecurities features 3 originals that would then get boosted and re-recorded for Firebreather.

“By the time I did Firebreather it was like yeah this is me. There were some that were trying to pigeonhole me into one category or another and I just came out kickin’. No this is me, take it or leave it. I’ve always kind of been the rebel rocker all my life, it’s what I grew up listening to. I grew up listening to the Blues, but I also grew up listening to these groups that you wouldn’t expect a young Black girl growing up in ‘the hood,’ or the projects, to listen to. So it was in me, it was ingrained in me. While they were trying to pigeonhole me I said NO, no here it is.”

Skylar has allies in fighting against the pigeonhole. The current band includes Steven Hill on guitar, “Disco Fuzz” Brad Arl on guitar, Jerry Ewing on bass, and Scott Wilson on drums. On Firebreather Disco Fuzz (truly one of the best nicknames around) is in the drum chair and Marty “Professor Shred” Gibson (I mean come on with these nicknames!) is on guitar with Pete Zimmer on keys. Skylar uses her instrument, her voice, as the lead. For a moment she enlisted Professor Shred to teach her guitar, but fashion got in the way. “I was actually taking lessons from him,” she says. “When it got to the point I had to cut my nails, it’s like, ‘shhhh well I think I’m gonna go sing.’ I can’t do it.”

“Without this band of miscreants there would be no me. I can get a musician, pick up anyone anywhere, but it wouldn’t have this personality that they have. You have that combination of Disco and Steven Hill, it’s old school versus new school with those two. Steve is classically trained, he’s a Jazz player, he’s done this for so many years. Then you’ve got Jerry on bass. It’s rather amazing. Jerry is 70 years old and Jerry’s one of those when he puts his mind to something he’s gonna do it. We needed a bass player because my bass player quit. He was trained on trombone and he knew a little guitar and he said ‘alright give me a little bit.’ I think within a few weeks he was playin’ bass. He really stepped up, he gets out there and he grooves and I love him for it. We call him the accountant, he used to be a CPA, and he takes very meticulous notes on the songs. And if I miss somethin’ I look at him – did I miss something, what’d I miss? Those are my guys and I love them dearly”

The launch of Skylar’s career is now forever shaped by the pandemic. She was just building up heat in 2020 when the world shut down. In her characteristic way she continued to persevere and didn’t let the shut down dull her passion. Her work ethic and values as an artist are strong and resilient and she is still grinding away now.

“We used pandemic time to finish the project (Firebreather), cause it came out in January (2021). So when everything came to a screeching halt – well we aren’t doing any shows might as well get some work done. Which is basically what’s happening again as things shut down more and more. It’s gettin’ colder, venues are becoming a little more weary of bringing things inside. You’ve got more venues canceling shows because to show a vaccine card, to not show a vaccine card. There’s a hot debate there. Mandatory masks, not mandatory masks there’s that debate. You’ve just got so many variables now and a lot of the venues are just saying well we’ll just cancel. We’re not almost back to square 1 but unfortunately we’re not too far from it.”

imageBeing a fledgling act just getting your footing you are low on the priority list. So in spite of Skylar’s tremendous talent, hot band, exceptional songs and dynamic stage presence, booking it tough.

“Just like the supply chains are starting to get caught up because everything shutdown in 2020, everything was backed up in 2021 and now 2022 they may or may not get caught up. That’s the same thing that’s happening here. Artists that were booked in 2020 that got canceled, now they’re rebooking for 2021 and anyone booking for 2021 is getting pushed to 2022. So now you’ve got new artist that are coming out and it’s like ‘uuuuh, hello?’ I mean this is the name of the game, you have to be able to hold out, you have to be able to persevere. We’re gonna hold on and it’ll come through. Even if we do 5 shows in a year, that’s 5 more than zero.”

So what about this Billy Joel influence? It seems really out of left field. As a fellow Billy Joel fan who sometimes gets made fun of for it, I had to know. Skylar put me to the test with a pop quiz which I failed: what was the last song Joel recorded?

It’s “Famous Last Words” the final song on his last record, 1993’s River of Dreams. It was a thrill to have Skylar sing to me over the phone in her soaring voice “These are the last words I have to say.” Skylar explains the obsession and it then becomes obvious where the influence lives:

“His songwriting, the man is a master storyteller and he’s a master performer. And (in a whisper) I just love his voice. I love the power in his voice when he sings. I told people he could sing the phone book to me and I’d just melt. I know nearly all of his songs. It’s his story telling. You listen to this, right now the Billy Joel channel is on, and I just listen to how he comes up with this stuff and it’s just like wowwww, I got to write these gems down. (haha). It is, it’s like a blueprint – it works for him, let’s see if it works for me.”

Skylar Rogers’ music reflects her life. It is honest, over the top, unexpected and hard rocking. As she pushes to continue her new found career she is continuing to develop her creativity and recording her next record.

“We are going to make the jump fully into Blues Rock, or Rock Blues,” she says. “It’s gonna come out swinging. Firebreather was just the beginning. We’re looking at late August for a release. Yeah I’m excited, I’m very excited for this.” An inspiration to the creative people who are thinking of taking the leap, Skylar is a success story. She is living her art and doing it in a unique and highly personal way. She has words of advice for us, a benediction for the working creatives, the grinders:

“I lived in Memphis for a while. I started going down to Beale Street and I would listen to these people sing and it was just like man, it’s so cool, wow. I know I’m not the only person who’s doing this. I would tell people, just do it. Even if you are the only one pushing you, you may never get there, it doesn’t matter. But you gotta know. If nothing else you might spend your life doing somethin’ you love. Painting, singing, whatever it is, never let go of that creativity. You just never know, just don’t give up. If it’s in you it’s in you.”

Check out Skylar’s website for more info:

Interviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 4

imageColin James – Open Road

Stony Plain Records – 2021

13 tracks; 53.48 minutes

Colin James remains stubbornly under the radar, despite having produced a succession of fine albums since his debut in the early 90’s; perhaps it’s because he is Canadian or that the sheer variety of his output has made him hard to pigeon-hole. Whatever the reason, those of us ‘in the know’ recognize his many talents and look forward to every album with unbridled enthusiasm! On this one, like so many others, Covid intervened and some of the parts had to be recorded remotely, but the overall sound is excellent, so the sound engineers, Colin and co-producer Dave Meszaros have all done an outstanding job. Colin leads on vocals and guitar (of which more later), with a core band of Geoff Hicks on drums, Norm Fisher on bass and Simon Kendall on keys; additional musicians include Steve Marriner (harp on one track), Chris Caddell (rhythm guitar on two), Steve Pelletier (bass on one), Colin Linden (slide guitar on one), Craig Northey (guitar/vocal on one), Jesse O’Brien (piano on one), Jerry Cook (baritone sax on two) and Steve Hilliam (tenor and baritone sax on three). The material includes four of Colin’s originals, each co-written by one of Linden, Northey or Tom Wilson, the remaining tracks coming from a wide variety of sources.

The album kicks off with a run of three covers, each very different in style. Tony Joe White’s “When The Crow Flies” is a familiar song, often played in acoustic style, but Colin’s band give us a full band version, albeit including dobro, though Colin’s solos are full-blooded electric. We then get an Albert King tune, “Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me”, with saxes beefing up the sound to provide an outstanding version, Chris Caddell playing the rhythm parts, allowing Colin to concentrate on the lead role, really bending the strings in AK style. The quiet desperation of Magic Sam’s “That’s Why I’m Crying” puts Colin’s fine vocals right up front, though his guitar work is again superb, subtle and entirely fitting the lyrics of the song. The first original is the title track, “Open Road”, a track with a hint of Americana as Colin overdubs dobro, acoustic and electric parts as he explores getting back to playing live after the Covid hiatus. Some impressive, searing guitar on this one!

Colin got his initial break supporting Stevie Ray Vaughan, so it is quite appropriate for him to cover “Change It”, the song that Doyle Bramhall wrote for Stevie after he managed to get over his addictions; Colin does a good job and includes some chunky riffs along the way. “Raging River” is another original, Colin Linden sitting in to add his slide to Colin’s on a song they co-wrote, a quiet interlude between “Change It” and the next cut,“When I Leave This House”, a pedal-to-the-metal tune with Jesse’s rocking piano featured and Colin tearing it up in Chuck Berry style. Next up is Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time” for which the horns return and Steve Marriner’s harp adds to the Chicago feel as Colin reels off some more impressive stuff on guitar. The final original is the second by the two Colins, “There’s A Fire”, Colin’s guitar work again impressing in classic slow blues style.

The last fur cuts are all covers and two come from Dylan. First up is the familiar “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”, given an upbeat, swinging, country feel with Colin’s slide in the lead, supported by the horns. John Lee Hooker’s “Bad Boy” sounds pretty authentic with minimal rhythm section and Colin’s slide work overdubbed on top of acoustic guitar. The second Dylan cover is an obscure tune which I confess to never having heard before, “Down On The Bottom”, but it’s a good track with a strong chorus and lots of great guitars. The final track is another obscurity, “I Love You More Than Words Can Say”; written by Eddie Floyd and Booker T Jones for Otis Redding. No horns in Colin’s yearning version, but a soul ballad in classic Stax style with lovely sentiments.

Throughout these thirteen tracks Colin again shows that he is a fine singer and guitarist who can turn his hand to a range of styles. If you are unfamiliar with Colin I suggest you check out some of his previous albums which include excursions into Jump Blues, Americana and acoustic styles; meanwhile do listen to Open Road, it’s a terrific album.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 4 

imageBobby Rush with Herb Powell – I Ain’t Studdin’ Ya: My American Blues Story

Hachette Books

320 pages Hardcover edition

Along with Buddy Guy, Bobby Rush is one of the few remaining artists from a generation that was responsible for making blues music popular around the world. And like Guy, Rush’s career really came into prominence later in life. In addition to headlining major blues festivals over the last 20 years, the singer has received numerous Blues Blast Music Award nominations and a Lifetime Achievement Award, more than fifty Blues Music Award nominations, receiving 13 awards, in addition to receiving two Grammy awards. He has received awards and recognition from a number of cities, states, and institutions of higher learning. In 2006, he was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame in Memphis, TN, sponsored by the Blues Foundation.

None of this success came easy, a fact pointed out time and again in the new autobiography that Rush has written with a helping hand from Herb Powell, a noted author and music historian. Born in Louisiana as Emmett Ellis Jr., he was named after his father, a hard-working farmer who was also a preacher. Hearing his father play a beat-up harmonica was the initial spark that fueled the youngster’s passion for music. Soon he was making rudimentary guitars out of wire from old brooms and a couple of nails pounded into a wall.

At age thirteen, the aspiring musician began taking trips to Pine Bluff, AK with an older friend who had a car. After a disagreement with his father over money, Rush left home, saved his money, and finally moved to the city for more opportunities. He meets one of his mentors, guitarist Boyd Gilmore, who told stories about his rambles around the region playing music, which provided further inspiration for Rush, who also credits the impact that Louis Jordan and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) made on his early development.

From there, Rush takes readers through the arc of his journey of life – playing in clubs as he honed his skills, then moving to Chicago to stay with his brother in order to get a taste of the big city. One interesting tale involves thought process on selecting the “Bobby Rush” stage name, partly to protect the reputation of his preacher father and, at the same time, something that would be smooth off the tongue. He also relates a hilarious story about the time he tricked a club owner with some quick costume changes that enabled him to get paid twice.

Another highlight of the book are the singer’s encounters with many of the legends of blues music, artists like Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Reed, guitarist Earl Hooker, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters, who encouraged Rush to start traveling to Europe in the mid-1960s, advice that he failed to heed, one of the regrets that came in hindsight. Rush does not shy away from sharing his views on the various aspects of racism he has dealt with over the years, particularly when he was touring the famous Chitlin’ Circuit, as well as in the tightly controlled network of Chicago nightspots, at times expressing his anger and pain in frank terms that leave little to the imagination.

It wasn’t until 1964, almost 20 years into his career, that Rush had a record released under his own name, entitled “Someday” on the Jerry-O label. Since then, he has released hundreds of recordings including his monster hit, “Chicken Heads,” tied to another story that shows how Rush adapted his songwriting to include humor and sly, but not lewd, sexual references, which became a hallmark of his style. He scored his first gold record with the song “Sue,” based his experiences with an older woman.

With a wife and family to support, the singer would often look for other ways to supplement his income beyond the realm of music. At on point, he was proud purveyor of a hot dog stand, quickly learning the value of location and fine-tuning his skills as a businessman. Later he opened a successful BBQ joint, an enterprise that almost cost him his life. Another one of his regrets is a drug bust in Texas that lead to a temporary career hiatus. His chilling description of an early morning accident that decimated his band is a vivid reminder of the dangers of life on the road.

Through it all, Rush never lost faith and kept grinding away, finally breaking through to the white blues audience, gaining entrance into the blues festival circuit as a headliner with a crack band and several female dancers to raise the entertainment value of his shows to new heights, particularly as the music has evolved to become at times a seemingly endless string of instrumentals solos. Rush acknowledges his pride at being referred to as the “King of the Chitlin’ Circuit,” while also making it clear that while he is now a world-wide draw, he will never abandon the black audience that has sustained him throughout his musical journey.

Included is a 16 page photo section full of black & white pictures that visually document his growth as an artist, in addition to turning the spotlight to some of the high points of his career.

Bobby Rush is a survivor. He is also a masterful storyteller. And all of the hit records, awards and tributes testify to his mastery of the music. Those aspects and many more come together in this compelling saga that is tough to put down. In the end, readers of this highly recommended autobiography will gain a whole new level of appreciation for Mr. Bobby Rush – don’t miss it!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!


 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 4 

imageSue Foley – Pinky’s Blues

Stony Plain Records – 2021

10 songs, 36 minutes (2 bonus, CD only, tracks)

Sue Foley is on a roll. The Canadian breed Blueswomen moved back to Austin a few years ago, where in the 90’s she apprenticed in one of the mythic incarnations of Antone’s. 2018’s soulful, Blues Rock manifesto The Ice Queen was a major artistic statement of Foley’s distinct style. Her follow up, Pinky’s Blues takes the newfound drive of Ice Queen and infuses it with real deal Texas Blues swagger. Cut live, Pinky’s Blues has a raw, spontaneous magic that leaps out of the speakers and invites the listener to join the band for a Modelo and a shot of Tequila.

When Sue Foley came back to Austin she reignited partnerships with some of the leaders of the Texas Blues scene. Legend Jimmie Vaughan, who plays rhythm guitar on a track here, has obviously been a mentor and inspiration. Double Trouble drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton, who holds the set down throughout, and Hammond B3 master Mike Flanigin, who produces and offers sparse accompaniment, have been a strong unit after cutting Flanigin’s excellent West Texas Blues with Foley earlier in the year. And long time bass foil Jon Penner keeps the music pinned to the ground and allows Foley to fly.

Sue Foley is an exceptional Blues guitarist. A student of the clear unfussy style of Texas Blues guitar created in part by Gatemouth Brown and currently held vibrant by Jimmie Vaughan, Foley’s number 1 guitar is a funky pink paisley Telecaster named Pinky. Aptly for a record named after a guitar, Pinky’s Blues is a straight up guitar showcase for Sue. The excellent bookend instrumentals, Foley’s original title track and Gate’s guitar-player-proving-ground “Okie Dokie Stomp,” are not even the most significant guitar statements here. The slow Blues of “Say It’s Not So,” one of two Austin Blues legend Angela Strehli covers, is a burning emotive shakedown. Tommy Brown’s (he was a fairly obscure singer, check him out!) gender reworked “Southern Man” is a hot Latin Blues romp. Texan Frankie Lee Sims’ classic “Boogie Real Low” has a weight and depth to the lead work. And Foley’s pair of new originals “Dallas Man” and “Hurricane Girl” alternately rock and shuffle both with raw grinding power.

The revelations of Pinky’s Blues come from the intense creativity and expressiveness of Sue Foley, the fully realized Blueswoman. Covering Texas Blueswomen Strehli and Antone’s legend Lavelle White, as well as Dallas Man Frankie Lee Sims and the great Tommy Brown track, Foley is looking back and being referential as she makes a definitive statement about her skill. Additionally the unique production of this record highlights the intimacy and talent needed to pull off a live recording. The guitar is not effected at all and is mic’ed way back so there is a ton of real estate between the listener’s ear and the guitar amp. The space creates a big lavish guitar sound that is as indulgent as it is comforting. In that same sonic room (probably cause they were actually in a room together) are all the other instruments. This isn’t the isolated disembodied sound of Yacht Rock or Steely Dan, this is earthy messy dusty Blues. These are Sue Foley’s Blues, her best girlfriend Pinky’s Blues and an exciting deeply personal touchpoint in the form.

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 4 

imageMick Kolassa – Wasted Youth

Endless Blues Records

12 songs – 49 minutes

Veteran bluesman Mick Kolassa delivers a little joy and releases immeasurable pain as he joins forces once again with producer/guitarist Jeff Jensen and kicks 2020 to the curb with CD, an album that bears witness to a year of sorrow in which he lost his beloved wife, several close friends and relocated from Mississippi to Memphis, too.

A clever tunesmith and gifted guitarist who goes by the nickname Michissippi Mick – a mash-up of his birthplace, Michigan, and his former home in the Delta, this is the ninth CD he’s released since turning his back on the pharmaceutical industry and adopting a vow of poverty to play the blues – and an almost all-electric follow-up to his well-received, acoustic Blind Lemon Sessions.

A former member of the board of directors of the Blues Foundation, he’s donating 100 per cent of the net proceeds of this one to two of its most important programs: the HART Fund, which aids artists in distress, and Generation Blues, which supports youths interested in playing the music.

Mick penned 11 of the 12 tracks on this one with backing from an all-star cast billed as The Endless Blues Band – a roster that includes Jensen, Albert Castiglia, Brad Webb, David Julia and Anthony Paule on guitars, Rick Steff on keys, Bill Ruffino on bass and James Cunningham and Doug McMinn on drums. They’re augmented by Eric Hughes and Brandon Santini on harp, Victor Wainwright on piano, a horn section composed of Marc Franklin (trumpet) and Kirk Smothers (saxes) aided by Alice Hasen (violin), Vickey Loveland (congas) and Tullie Brae (backing vocals).

Recorded at Memphis Music + Arts and Young Avenue Sound, Kolassa delivers dark themes atop bright, contemporary blues chockful of deeply personal messages throughout. But despite the subject matter there’s plenty here to smile about – beginning with “Throwing Away These Blues,” an upbeat, uptempo, horn-driven pleaser that announces he’s finished taking gut punches with his hands in his pockets and eyes on the ground. Jensen shares a brief, but tasty mid-tune break with Steff.

The title tune, “Wasted Youth” – a medium-paced shuffle – finds Mick face-to-face with the realization that all folks of a certain age have to come to terms with: that when they finally start appreciating all they enjoyed about their younger years, it’s already gone. The highly emotional slow burner “It Hurts to Let You Go” recounts the highs and lows of a lifetime love affair, a theme that continues in “I’m Missing You,” a danceable soul-blues that brightens the message as it celebrates the good memories and looks forward to one day reuniting in the Great Beyond.

The minor-key “Easy Doesn’t Live Here” features fine fretwork from the youthful Julia as Kolassa puts a realistic spin on the pain all of us have to endure to get where we are today before the funk kicks in with Paule on the strings and the mood brightens for the love song “I Can’t Get Enough.” Wainwright joins the action for the soulful “Feeling Sorry for Myself” in which Mick says he’s going to “put my smile on the shelf” as he reflects on the downtime in his life without self-pity.

“Touching Bass” feels light and airy despite dealing with an extended separation from a longtime love before the only cover in the set, “Darkness to Light,” serves up a medley of War’s “Slipping into Darkness,” The Youngbloods’ “Darkness, Darkness” and the traditional spiritual “Wayfaring Stranger.”

Santini stretches out on the reeds on “My Mind Doesn’t Wander,” another love song, before the slow blues, “Pieces of the Past,” finds Mick reflecting on his life and flooded with memories as he downsizes for the move before. The disc concludes with “Edge of a Razor,” an acoustic number that pays tribute to hard-working women everywhere and features Kolassa, Jensen and Castiglia on guitars with no other accompaniment.

No matter what the medium, Mick Kolassa delivers heartfelt messages from the heart, and serves up a jewel with Wasted Youth. I loved it, and think you will, too!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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