John Fusco – John Fusco And the X-Road Riders
Checkerboard Lounge Records
10 songs – 42 minutes
Better known as the writer of Crossroads and producer of such other major movies as Young Guns, Hidalgo and The Forbidden Kingdom, John Fusco is also a gifted multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who fuses blues, swamp and soul jazz here to produce an album that’s as successful as his work on the big screen.
A native of Prospect, Conn., Fusco who plays Hammond B-3 organ, piano, organ bass and acoustic guitar, has always had a great love for Delta blues. He left home and high school early in the late ‘70s to scour Mississippi in search of obscure bluesmen, playing the blues himself and working day labor.
He returned home and co-founded the Southern rock group Travis McComb Band, serving as front man, before hitting the pavement with the Dixie Road Ducks out of Virginia. A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School Of The Arts, he worked closely with record producer Jim Dickinson and Ry Cooder, Steve Vai and Frank Frost on Crossroads, and several of his works have included musical themes, most notably the Elvis Presley biography, Last Train To Memphis, and Jackson Browne’s video for “Rockin’ The Rez,” which was a companion piece to Fusco’s film, Thunderheart.
This album was produced and recorded by Jim Dickinson’s son, Cody, at Checkerboard Lounge Studios in Southaven, Miss., a few miles south of Memphis, and features an interesting combination of musicians that includes the North Mississippi All-Stars. The X-Road Riders are primarily a trio with Cody delivering guitar, dobro, piano, electric woogie board and drums and Risse Norman providing additional vocals.
This collection of nine Fusco originals and one cover features guest appearances by Luther Dickinson on guitar, Joshua Clinger on trumpet, Bradley “Baby J” Jewett on sax and rapper Al Kapone on single cuts. And harmonica player Mark Lavoie, once a protégé and driver for Sonny Terry, sits in on a pair.
The action opens slowly with a brief musical gumbo on “Rolling Thunder,” a Southern rocker with deep blues roots. It quickly builds intensity without picking up speed, driven by Fusco’s powerful, smoky voice and work on the keys. Borrowing from the theme of “The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus’ words that grace the Statue Of Liberty, it’s a plea for peace, love and unity in a nation divided by color into states that are red and blue.
The heaviness of that tune diminishes quickly with a Hill Country feel for “Drink Takes The Man,” which cleverly states: “Man takes a drink/And the drink takes another/Man gets so blind/He doesn’t know his own mother.” The music takes a surprising turn with “Poutine,” a horn- and B-3 driven stop-time pleaser that sings praises of the French Canadian comfort-food staple, a combination of French fries and cheese curds drenched in brown gravy.
Lavoie’s harp opens “Hello, Highway,” a ballad that’s both a love song for a lady and the open road, before the medium-paced blues-rocker, “A Stone’s Throw,” deals with the familiar theme “if you didn’t have bad luck, you’d have no luck at all” as it describes the hurdles most of us face living life every day. “I Got Soul,” a straight-ahead blues sings praise of a life that’s left after rock-‘n’-roll and booze the rear mirror, is up next aided by Jewett, before “Can’t Have Your Cake,” an unhurried rocker with a distinct Allman Brothers feel.
“Boogie On The Bayou” recounts a young man’s first sexual encounter – with a former beauty queen intent upon riling up her cheating man — during a trip to New Orleans before “Once I Pay This Truck Off” comes across with a pleasant country twang. The album closes with Robert Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues,” aided by Kapone and Luther Dickinson, which comes across with a definite Hill Country feel.
Available through Amazon, CDBaby and other outlets, and highly recommended for anyone who loves their blues served with a strong helping of roots.