Jonny T-Bird and the MPs – Common Cents
Neon Grub Jeer Music
CD: 13 Songs, 48 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock
Within the past decade or so, much has been made of our cultural obsession with competition, winning, and hyper-meritocracy. “Good” just isn’t good enough anymore; everything must be “excellent,” “riveting,” even “stellar” in order to make the grade these days. Don’t believe me? Check the back of the latest NYT bestseller or Rolling Stone article. There seems to be no more room for the adequate, the satisfying, the meeting of standards. For par, in golf and in life. Enter Milwaukee’s Jonny T-Bird and the MPs, standing for “Marinated Puppets” (no joke). They play solid, entertaining blues, heavy on instrumentation and light on flashy vocal tricks. On their latest album, Common Cents, they present eleven original songs and two covers (“Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” by D. Nix and “Mr. Pitiful” by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper). Their style is laid-back yet energized, like at a beginning-of-fall barbecue with lots of beef and beer.
Some say you have to be born with the blues to play the blues. That turned out to be the case when Jon Neuberger was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at an early age. However, that didn’t stop him from picking up the guitar at the age of thirteen. Back then, Jon studied under two of Milwaukee’s guitar legends, Jeff Dagenhardt and Greg Koch. Jon was given the name “Jonny T-Bird” while he was a student at Wauwatosa West High School and one of his teachers (Bob Bathurst) called him that name out of the blue. The more he did it, the more that name stuck. Jon was learning classic rock songs and played with various bands during his teenage years. While he went to college at both MATC and Carroll University, Jon finally decided to pursue his music into blues and jazz. Jon can also be found giving private guitar and bass lessons if he’s not performing.
Joining T-Bird (guitar, harmonica and vocals) are “Cadillac” Craig Carter on bass and vocals; Marcus “MG” Gibbons on drums and percussion; Nikki Beckman on drums; Conway Powell on bass; Pierre Lee and Jane Barry Fraundorf on keyboards; Aaron Gardner on horn arrangements and saxophone, and Eric Jacobson on trumpet.
“Can’t Pick It Up” starts things off on a gritty, stomping note, featuring the band as it goes all out in this brief blues-rock breakup anthem. Yours truly enjoyed the second track, “Birthday Blues.” Sometimes, all you get for your big day is the big heave-ho. “Happy birthday – that’s what the people say,” T-Bird says, “but when it comes to my birthday, anything but a happy day.” “Mary, Queen of Scotch” is a surefire sing-along, depicting a brazen barfly who’s sure to ruin any party as fast as she becomes the life of it. As for T-Bird, he plays some killer harp here. “I Need Water,” however, is the true harmonica highlight of the CD. Moody and atmospheric, it brings back the ‘70s with aplomb. Further on down the line come the bouncy instrumental “Hey, Renee!” and a noteworthy cover of “Mr. Pitiful.” This one ain’t. It deserves several listens.
Common Cents may not earn glowing superlatives, but it’s reliable, real-deal blues rock!