Mad Dog Blues – Family Reunion 2020
24 songs – 128 minutes
Mad Dog Blues is one of a number of Colorado blues bands to have featured the harmonica player and songwriter, Mark “Mad Dog” Friedman. Friedman’s aim with Mad Dog Blues was to put together an acoustic blues jam band with a unique style indigenous to Colorado in the 21st Century whilst still honoring its blues roots. The fact that he dubbed this music “Colorado Country Blues” (hence the website address), because it combines the “Colorado Sound” (jam grass) with traditional rural blues, gives an indication of the entertaining wit of a man who wears his learning lightly.
Family Reunion 2020 is the second album from Mad Dog Blues and is a highly enjoyable double album that successfully combines acoustic country blues, folk grass, singer-songwriter soul and jam into one thematically consistent whole.
Friedman contributes harmonica and Native American flute, while other members of the group include Jeff Becker and Sean Bennight on both mandolin and acoustic guitar; Clark Chanslor on bass; and Mark Kaczorowski and Big Willie Palmer on acoustic guitars. Guests include Bruce Delaplain on Hammond B3 organ; Doug Moldawsky, Steve Doersam and Jenn Cleary on acoustic guitars and vocals and Lonesome Rolan on acoustic piano. As one might expect from an acoustic blues jam collective, lead vocals are shared between several musicians, including Friedman, Becker, Bennight, Kaczorowski, Palmer, Moldawsky, Cleary and Doersam.
All bar one of the 24 songs on the album is an original and with every member either writing or co-writing at least one song, there is both variety and inventiveness aplenty. The first album focusses on early string band acoustic blues styles, with lashings of great mandolin and acoustic guitar. Highlights include Friedman’s fraught vocal performance on “My Will Is Gone” and the joyous vocal harmonies on “The Price You Pay” that recall the Grateful Dead’s gentler, more acoustic moments. Indeed, the Dead is clearly a considerable influence on the band, both in songs like “It’s A Sunny Day” but also in the willingness of the musicians to take a musical path and to follow wherever it leads. The haunting “Still Blue” lasts only 52 seconds, but features some stunning harmonica work from Friedman. By contrast, the first album ends with the nine and a half minute extended one-chord jam, “Shine” and it is testament to the quality of the musicianship that the time does not drag on repeated listening.
The second album sees additional instruments added to the mix, including Delaplain’s Hammond B3 organ and Rolan’s piano, as well as Cleary’s folky voice, but continues to explore the same avenues as the first album. “Thank You Baby” is a dreamy, summer instrumental with great harmonica while “Hot Pepper Baby” has some fine organ playing. The 13 minute “Blazz Jam” does perhaps meander a little, but it also contains some excellent Native American flute from Friedman.
With a fun, down-home feel, Family Reunion 2020 successfully manages to ride the fine line between being both relaxed and energetic. Great musicianship, great songs and great production (kudos to Dog House Studios in Lafayette, CO). What’s not to like?