Johnny Mastro is a wild piece of work. He and his band of musicians, Mama’s Boys started out in Los Angeles but relocated to New Orleans. Along the way, New Orleans rubbed off on the group and changed the way they approached music forever.
Let’s face it, there are unique cities all over the world, but New Orleans is on a whole different level. Every culture on this dark rock we call Earth seems to find its way to New Orleans and the mixing of cultures results in some of the most exciting music, food, dance, drink, and any other form of art that pops in to your head.
Since this is not a sociological examination, let’s just stick to a review of Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys new album, Never Trust The Living.
The band went into the studio, and ripped through 78 takes of 27 songs over a period of two days and then picked the 11 that appear on this album. That’s a staggering feat of epic proportions. The stamina that would take is enormous.
The band consists of Mastro on vocals and harp; Smoke on guitar; Dean Zucchero on bass; and Rob Lee on drums and percussion. I don’t see any guest players listed, and after listening to the album, I’m not convinced that any were needed or used. This album was recorded in a white hot frenzy and it may be the wildest I’ve heard in quite a while.
This album opens with an evil chuckled before giving way to the edgy music of Snake Doctor. You can tell that this is not your average disc, we’re going to be in the presence of something otherworldly. The music is strong, the vocals seem to come from somewhere else. Must be New Orleans…
Drinking in its various forms is one of the favorite subjects of the blues, bar none, and the song Whiskey delivers some serious old-school music and vocals. For some troubles, it just seems easier to curl up in the bottom of a bottle and let the pain wash away. In this case, it’s not the singer who has the issues, and all we get is a great song.
The longest cut on the album at approximately 6:30, Judgement Day is also the first song that Mastrogiovanni didn’t write. It starts out with some feedback before smoothing out with some harp licks. It’s a deep subject, and the slower ponderous rhythm is driving. It’s a mystical song, one of contemplation, and the dark music drives the point home.
Monkey Man starts out with a variation of the old children’s rhyme, “Monkey See Monkey Do,” before moving into the music. Again, the music is dark and heavy and gives a song a different direction. As other children’s rhymes get deconstructed, Mastro’s harp cuts through the music and the effect is chilling.
Next up is Don’t Believe, a slow smoldering number that makes Mastro’s vocal stand out more. It’s pretty much just him and Smoke’s guitar at first, with Zucchero’s bass and Lee’s drums contributing quietly in the background. Mastro’s harp is piercing and this is very much an old-school number of the first order.
The traditional song House Of Rising Sun gets the Mastro treatment as he did the arrangement of this classic. It’s one of the hardest rocking versions that I’ve ever heard, and his use of the harp as a lead works wonderfully. It’s an instrumental, but oh how it drives. Great version of a great song.
Speaking of hard rocking, the follow up song, Walking, utilizes plenty of distortion on Smoke’s guitar. I’m not always a fan of heavy distortion, I find that a little goes a long way, but you have to give it to Mastro & Mama’s Boys for pushing the envelope.
Next up is the title track, Never Trust The Living, with a nice shuffle rhythm. It melds some rock with the blues and it works. Lee’s drums carry much of the song and the lyrics are ethereal. Mastro’s harp picks up the tempo and push the song to the final notes.
Bucksnort Annie is a fast-driving number that I can’t imagine anyone not liking. It’s got a rockabilly sensibility driving the blues. This one will be popping up on Time For The Blues, and you just might want to get out your dancing shoes.
The second instrumental on the album, The Sad Night Owl, is next. It’s a slow, languid number that gets under your skin. It was written by the late great Freddie King and it has plenty of King’s signature moves. It gives you the feeling of late night loneliness and that feeling of despair that we’ve all known from time to time. That’s the blues for ya…
Mastro & Mama’s Boys close out the album with Indrid Cold. They are mixing those edgy guitar chops with some traditional blues approaches. It’s a wild story song that pulls out all the stops and even includes some spaceship noises to close out the song. Experimental and fascinating.
Some people are going to love this album, others may not respond with the same amount of enthusiasm. I find myself close to loving it, and think there are many songs that I will utilize on the show. However, that’s only my opinion, the final opinion rests with you.
I like experimentation. I like it because it pushes boundaries and offers up alternative ways to approach the creation of music. To me, all music is fluid and always changing and evolving. I may not always dig the direction in which that music flows, but the journey is what’s important.
I encourage you to check them out. I enjoyed a previous album of theirs very much and liked this one as well. You can sample them at their website: https://www.johnnymastro.com/ and find out more about their touring plans. Trust me, if I’m within a hundred miles of this group, I’ll be there!