John Alex Mason

John Alex Mason
Town And Country

Naked Jay Bird Music NJBM006

By Art Tipaldi
August 2008

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Don’t let the boyish blond looks fool you. This is how blues was meant to sound.

John Alex Mason first hits your ears with a voice that comes from another time and place. It’s a mature, smoky curl that jumps off the record with a density many singers spend years trying to achieve. From there, Mason’s songs and interpretations take his listeners on a back-roads journey through long, back breaking days and hot, juke joint nights. One listen and you’ll hear the pure Delta blues truth reincarnated in this young soul.

Mason is no novice on the blues scene. In 2001 he won the Telluride Acoustic Blues competition. Then, in 2004, he copped the prestigious Arkansas Blues And Heritage Blues Festival’s most promising emerging artist award. This year, he was a finalist in the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge's solo competition. On this, his fifth record, Mason offers a distinctive blend of original tunes crafted by an artist who deeply loves everything Delta and Piedmont, alongside faithfully played country blues chestnuts.

The title of the disc refers to the dual musical styles Mason displays. The eight country tunes feature Mason diggin’ into his National Steel, and the seven town songs spotlight Mason’s earthy electric dance grooves.

The disc opens with a droning, one man band version of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Shake ‘Em On Down.” The program then turns down a country lane with “Steel Pony Blues,” Mason’s modern derivative of every pony song since the Charley Patton classic, “Pony Blues.”

On “Bury My Boots,” Mason borrows floating verses from Robert Johnson’s “Me And The Devil.” Then he covers from those blues masters with Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues” and Patton’s “Boll Weevil.”

In “Chef Menteur,” Mason sings of the hard rain that fell on New Orleans in 2005. Because the literal meaning of the French “Chef Menteur” is “Chief Liar,” Mason can address the government lies that haunt that national disaster.

He begins the town songs with three Mason originals: “Locomotive” and “What Are You Hungry For,” both raw, hill country howls, and “Rabbit Song,” Mason’s song writing hand at rewriting a rural folk tale.

Mason’s finest may be his penetrating look into Skip James’ “Cypress Grove,” where Mason’s assertive moans and trance-like guitar echoes are totally dialed into the Bentonia, Miss., world of James.

Mason then plays Elmore James’ “Shake Your Money Maker” and Bukka White’s “Jitterbug Swing” with the unbridled enthusiasm of his classic, one man, street performances. The disc ends as it began, with an acoustic “Shake ‘Em On Down.”

In all, this is one musical soul to watch in the years to come.

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