Mick Kolassa – They Call Me Uncle Mick!
Endless Blues Records MK08 2022
11 songs – 39 minutes
One of the busiest artists on the blues scene today, Memphis-based Mick Kolassa poured on the heat with the electrified I’m Just Getting Started last summer but returns to his acoustic roots in style with this follow-up, mixing six clever originals with five covers culled from other fields.
A Michigan native who’s released about a dozen CDs since walking away from his day job a decade ago, Kolassa’s definitely deserving of the Uncle Mick reference he uses in the title. Despite the seeming frown displayed on the cover, there’s plenty to smile about thanks to his warm voice, friendly delivery and skill as picker on the six-string.
Three of the biggest names in the industry – Bobby Rush, Doug MacLeod and Watermelon Slim – all make guest appearances here in a set captured by Pete Matthews and Toby Vest at High Low Recording in Memphis. Gospel and blues giant Dexter Allen provided extra help in the studio, and – as usual – Mick called on blues-rock powerhouse Jeff Jensen to serve as his co-producer.
Delivering what he terms “free-range blues,” Kolassa’s backed throughout by Jensen on guitar and percussion, Rick Steff on piano, Tom Leonardo on drums and Carl Caspersen on bass. Rush, Slim and Eric Hughes all contribute harmonica, Chris Gill and Brad Webb sit in on six-string and Alice Hasan (violin) and John Whittemore (vibraphone) lend a hand, too.
All of Mick’s originals are clever, down-to-earth and frequently humorous, and they dovetail perfectly with a cross-section of tunes that span the 20th century, beginning with a rendition of Bo Carter’s “My Pencil Won’t Write No More.” There’s a twinkle in his eye and a smile in his voice throughout the hokum classic. His work on the strings is sprightly, and Hughes’ mid-tune solo shines. Eric yields to Bobby on the reeds for the previously released original, “Wasted Youth,” which follows. An unhurried shuffle, it continues the theme of the opener as it states: “Why they gotta waste youth on the young?/They don’t know how good they got it, man, ‘til it’s already gone.”
John Prine’s country-folk pleaser, “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin,” takes on another dimension thanks to a reinterpretation as a percussive blues before MacLeod lays down tasty licks on “Used to Be,” a complaint about the current state of the post office, radio, reimagined restaurant menus and more. Up next, a cover of Hank Williams’ chart-topper, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” is head-and-shoulders the most interesting song yet, stripping away the classic country feel and replacing it with a bluesy, gypsy feel enhanced by Hasan’s exceptional work on fiddle.
MacLeod’s back on board for “My Woman She’s So Mean,” which describes a lady who’s highly troubling and evil, too. It precedes an uptempo take on Joni Mitchell’s paeon to “Woodstock” on which Kolassa shares the mic with Watermelon Slim who also adds a taste of Louisiana saxophone and “Why?” – and original complaint about a woman who bad-mouths others and seems able to love herself and no one else.
Things brighten instantly for a take of “(On the) Sunny Side of the Street,” the Broadway hit penned by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh in 1930. Two more originals — “Bless His Heart,” an uptempo tribute to a late friend Bubba, which features Steff, and “The Cheese Song,” a send-up honoring…you guessed it…cheese – bring the action to a close.
One of the most giving musicians in the blues world, Mick’s a former member of the board of the Blues Foundation and – as he’s done frequently in the past – he’s donating all of the net proceeds to two of its charities: the HART Fund, which provides support for musicians dealing with financial and/or health problems, and Generation Blues, a program that supports youngsters who’ll continue the music for future generations. Do yourself a favor by picking up this one. You’ll be doing a good deed, too!