John-Alex Mason - Town and Country
15 songs; 57:52 minutes; Library Quality
Styles: Country Blues, Delta Blues, One Man Band
This is the season to be nominating folks to receive a “Keeping The Blues Alive” Award at the 2009 ceremony. Possibly, the sponsor, The Blues Foundation, needs to add one more category: Performer. John-Alex Mason would then be my choice because this young bluesman will turn your head around, literally.
While artists are only eligible for a Blues Music Award and the K.B.A.s are for non-performers, noted guitarist and alum of a Muddy Waters band, Bob Margolin, claims, ““I first heard John-Alex Mason in the distance when he played at the King Biscuit festival in Helena, Arkansas a few years ago. His Delta Blues sounded so right and appropriate... mixed with the echoes of the Blues from the past.... John-Alex was whuppin' it with the fire, passion, and understanding of the language of Blues Music. I had to find out who was playing....”
One has to think that past one-man-and-his-guitar originators like Skip James, Son House, and Robert Johnson would be proud to see their songs and styles furthered into the 21 century by quality artists like a young John-Alex Mason. Personally, I can imagine a wry smile creeping across an early bluesman’s face if he could see Mason playing a cigar-box and broom handle “LoweBow” guitar. “What the hell is that thing you got there, boy? Can’t you afford no gee-tar?” he might inquire. Of course, Robert Johnson would also be more than a little awed by that electrical amplification stuff.
“Town and Country,” the fifth album from Colorado’s Mason, contains a mixture of seven originals, five traditional songs, and three Mason arranged covers (Skip James’ “Cypress Grove,” Elmore James’ “Shake Your Money Maker,” and Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues.”) All fifteen songs feature the incredible, wearied singing voice of Mason that one just does not expect from a younger man. With a nasal resonance, his strong voice propels each song, creating an interest matched only by the remarkable rhythm of his instrument playing and Footdrumming.
Mason on a National resonator, steel bodied, Style O guitar, electric guitar, and LoweBow is like a juggler keeping several balls in the air as he keeps several rhythms going simultaneously. By striking the strings with all five fingers, alternately thumbing the bass strings for rhythm and plucking the treble strings for melody lead notes, he can play both simultaneously.
Songwriting: If Mason ever took a composition class in school, I’ll bet he scored highly. Imagine an assignment: “Class, poetically express your take on ‘home is where the heart is.’” Mason’s homework (now found in his song “Bury My Boots”): “‘Bury My Boots’ baby / By the highway side / I don’t want to see another / Greyhound bus to ride.” Another assignment: “Class, finish this sentence, ‘I miss you more than I miss _?_.’” Mason’s homework: “The Sun.” Further excellence is found in his song “Strange Things (happening in this world)” where Mason poignantly conveys the idea that true solace is best found in the bosom of a lover.
In John-Alex Mason, one gets the complete package of singer, songwriter, guitar player. Now add the exuberance of youth and the devotion of a blues soul, and voila, this year’s winner for keeping the early blues alive.
Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL