Jook-Joint Thunderclap indeed. The latest album from John-Alex
Mason starts out with some fine gritty blues. Mason croons soulfully,
honey-smooth and convincingly from a bygone past. Comfort food for
the ears. But then there's a startling surprise - and a good one -
in the form of a brief but nicely executed rap in the middle of "Gone
So Long." It's an unexpected yet perfect pairing; the traditional
and the modern weaving seamlessly together.
"More Than Wind" has some delicious old-timey instrumentation
along with those snake-like, sliding vocals. Lovely. "Riding
On" adds some very tasty and exotic African percussion - djembe
and balafon - and harmonica. This one bubbles and pops underneath
the bluesy musical structure with a rap in the middle that really
works. It's a serious jam, in a festive, crazy gumbo sort of way
- definitely one of the standouts.
While the lyrics are far from revelatory ("I rolled and I
tumbled, cried the whole night long / I woke this morning, didn't
know right from wrong"), the story here is the blending of
musical styles into a contemporary hybrid - front porch Americana
fiddling; classic blues vocalizations; African rhythms; and those
guest raps that come in and find a natural home for themselves.
It's back to the Mississippi Delta for "Rolled And Tumbled"
("told my woman right before I left my town, don't let nobody
tear my juke joint down"). "Diamond Rain" brings back
the fiddling, the rhythm picks up and the vocals lighten for a satisfyingly
upbeat jam. "Signifying Monkey" shifts into a slowed-down,
drawn out blues sprawl with some fine melodic interplay between the
vocals and some pleasantly low-down, fuzzed-out gritty guitar. The
fast/slow pace continues, keeping things interesting. "Write
Me A Few Of Your Lines" mixes in some crazy mandolin and harmonica,
and to my ear, is another one of the album's best tracks.
Jook-Joint Thunderclap is a nice mix of furious and festive,
bluesy wails and ballads, and ends with quiet and sweet - the very
pretty, acoustically strummed "Whisper," which serves as
a classy closure.
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