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Album Review


JOHN ALEX MASON
Jook Joint Thunderclap

You've heard about gateway drugs? Well, welcome to gateway blues. Like so many of my generation, I was introduced to the blues by the likes of Canned Heat, Cream and John Mayall, all rock and all borrowing from the blues but not really blues. Afterward, I bounced from Paul Butterfield to The John Dummer Blues Band to Siegel-Schwall to Muddy Waters to John Lee Hooker and a slew of lesser known artists and bands, all with toes in the blues in varying depths. See, I was a white boy from a small logging town in Oregon. All we had was Country & Western, Rock and Pop. Unless you knew someone, that's what you knew. Radio? Fat chance of hearing the blues on radio around there. In fact, Fat chance of hearing anything outside of the already mentioned.

Real blues didn't affect me much until I happened upon an article, probably in Rolling Stone, about Skip James. Cream had covered I'm So Glad and James, when he heard it, said something to the effect that he didn't write it. Eric Clapton supposedly countered with (and I'm paraphrasing) “Well, that's what we started out with and that's what we ended up with, so yes, he wrote it, no matter what we did with it.” I always admired Clapton for that. He could have taken the money, and there was plenty, to the bank. Instead, he did the right thing.

That article and that music was my gateway to the blues. I looked up Skip James and was introduced to a whole string of blues players, some of whom I'd heard of but had never heard. I corrected that then and there and, true to form, the first one was free. A friend deeply immersed in the genre was so psyched that I was ready to listen that he gave me an old copy of Skip James Today! and pushed me out the door, knowing I'd be back. I never got into the blues like he did, but we shared a love for many of the artists and albums I came to know.

When I heard John Alex Mason's Jook Joint Thunderclap, that whole process came back to me in a rush. The combination of brash guitar and frantic mouth harp (not to mention made-for-the-blues voice of Mason) on My Old Lonesome Home snagged me, the choogling rhythm of Gone So Long set the hook and the rest was pure icing on the cake. Mason rocks, my friends, but with a blues-flavored edge which catches the ear. True, some of the tracks lean more toward the blues than others, More Than Wind and Rolled and Tumbled in particular, but what it all comes down to is that Mason rocks. Throw in the varied rhythms, the chunky and occasionally swamp blues guitar, the mere willingness to toss in a bit of trip hop vocals (sparingly, but effectively), the free flow feel from track to track and you have a winner. Almost automatic for those of us who accept the marriage of blues and rock and a perfect starter kit for those who don't.

Checking out the liner notes, I was surprised (though I guess I should not have been) that the album was recorded in Boulder, of all places. Memphis, maybe. New Orleans, possibly. Chicago, yeah. But Boulder? Just goes to show you that music knows no boundaries. I also found that Mr. Mason is a one-man band, of sorts. Not many of them around. Scott H. Biram is the only other one I can think of off the top of my head, though there are surely others.

Gateway? You bet. I already have a short list of youngsters I am going to pass this along to. Too bad Christmas is so far away. This would be perfect.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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