A lot of stuff lands on my bar. Mostly the usual stuff like shot glasses, beer bottles, and the occasional rag to wipe away the detritus. Also the mail. Jojo, who has been delivering mail here to the Juke Joint for years, always brings in a stack. I can always tell when there are bills because his smile is a little forced and the laughs are a little less.
I can always tell when bands are sending me things, because he hangs around a little bit in case I’m going to slap it onto the juke box and give it a listen. Sometimes he gets lucky – like the other day when he brought me a copy of Johnny Mastro and Mama’s Boys new CD, “Luke’s Dream” which is released by Rip Cat Records. Always liked Rip Cat, they put out some artists that I like that aren’t ruined by becoming too mainstream.
I like the madmen and the outsiders.
Gotta admit I was unfamiliar with these guys but was hooked by the very first song “Luke’s Stomp.” Very swampy and dark, I’m intrigued by their electric sound fused with a driving harp and sharp vocals. Their next song “Thunder Roll” continues in the same vein and yeah, I’m thinking to myself, these boys came to play.
The band is made up of Johnny Mastro on vocals and harmonica. He’s no slouch on either. Smokehouse (that’s the actual name on the CD) provides guitars, slide guitars and acoustic guitars, Michael Hightower plays bass and acoustic bass, and Jimmy Goodall plays drums. They are joined by Max Bagwell on drums, Kirk Fletcher on guitar, Peter Atanasoff on guitar and spiritual guidance – and that’s something every good band needs. Scott Abeya adds his guitar and Lisa Cee joins in with some percussion.
“Knee High” is okay but then the band segues into Champion Jack Dupree’s “Junker Blues” and drive it like they stole it. “Mr. JJ’s Man” is punctuated by Mastro’s harp work, “Hurt” follows with driving guitars. The band then kicks off “Tonight We Ride” inviting the audience to join them on their journey.
By now I’m intrigued by these cats and wonder why they’re not on my radar. It happens. Even the professor can’t keep up with everyone – that’s why I have y’all letting me know when you find someone good. You can find out all sorts of information about them at their website, http://www.johnnymastro.com/. One of the things you can find are the several albums they've already released that I don't have - yet.
So far, everything has been up tempo, forward driving and I’m hoping for a ballad to offer some contrast. Well, we don’t always get what we want. “The Light” continues the relentless assault. “Francine” follows.
Some of the liner notes by Spiritual Advisor Peter Atanasoff compares what the band is doing to the early Paul Butterfield Blues Band work. It’s not a stretch to compare the two as both bands meld the blues with rock and roll in order to create a unique sound. Mastro and Mama’s Boys aren’t quite up to the heights established by Butterfield and company, but then who is? It’s the attempt that counts and they are rocking nicely.
“Spider” finally slows down the express train and the band proves they are up to the task with a controlled effort. “Roller Coaster” opens with that familiar Bo Diddley beat, which is only fitting since the great one himself wrote the number. “My Rocket” follows and the tempo is back up driving the band forward to the finish line. Smokehouse provides some excellent fret work on the number.
The album ends on a high note, “Temperature” driving the sound to a powerful crescendo.
Be warned, those of you who are traditionalists and want to hear your blues a certain way. You ain’t going to get that here. You’ve got musicians that are pushing limits, experimenting and creating their own sound. Would love to see this band live.