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John-Alex Mason
Jook-Joint Thunderclap
Naked Jaybird Music
www.johnalexmason.com


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.

-Julie Stoller

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