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Blues Men – Johnny Mastro, Ray Fuller, Lew Jetton, Billy T, Chris Antonik

C. Michael Bailey By

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According to Digital Music News, as of 2015, Rhythm & Blues / Hip Hop made up 22% of the recording market (Jazz and Classical make up but 2% each, go figure). I am pretty sure that straight blues is simply folded into the R&B category since I can find no mention of blues alone in my cited reference. That said, like in jazz, the number of people recording blues is far more than that being sold. That is staying power among artists, thank the Divine.

Johnny Mastro & Mama's Boys
Never Trust the Living
Self Produced
2016

Well, Holy Shit! Johnny Mastro(riovanni) and Mama's Boys hail from New Orleans by way of Los Angeles' famed Babe's and Ricky's Inn, by way of New York City's East Village. I was ready to dismiss this recording sight unheard until Smoke, the quartet's guitarist, hammered a nail into my head and called it "Snake Doctor." Somewhere in the murk of the internet was something to the effect that this music was all Chicago Blues. Wrong! What this music is, is the love child of Billy Gibbons and Tony Iommi as evidenced by the fat, overdriven sound of Smoke's Gibson Les Paul, passed through cigarette smoke and mustard gas. So you remember that slimy shit that dripped from the Alien's fangs in the Alien movie franchise. You know, the stuff that ate through metal like some kind of nuclear hydrofluoric acid...that is what this music is. Backed by a power trio that defines the format, Johnny Mastro sings with a sinister comfort in passing off the bad news. He is not a bad harp player either. He starts where Little Walter Jacobs leaves off. Of note is, "Indrid Cold," which powerfully recalls Jacob's "Sad Hours." This music does not break stones into gravel; It grinds gravel into dust.

Ray Fuller and the Blues Rockers
Long Black Train
Azuretone Records
2016

Another power trio with a harmonica, Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers have called themselves a band since 1974. A Midwestern product leader Fuller is a full-fledged slide guitar slinger with all of the party insolence of George Thorogood and twice the slide guitar talent. But Fuller does not let technique get in the way of having a good time. He can Keith-Richards- slash-and-burn with the best of them, while strumming a bar strut or swamp boogie. Fuller's present recording, Long Black Train contains a full measure of original compositions that run the gamut from John Lee Hooker vamp of "Burn Me Up" to the Delta drag of "Whiskey Drinking Woman." Taut and muscular, Fuller's standard guitar playing is capable whether playing a shuffle or jump blues. He employs little overdrive or reverb, achieving a sharp, evenly defined tone. Forty- plus years is worn well by Fuller whose durable style and sound songwriting.

Lew Jetton & 61 South
Rain
Self Produced
2016

Tennessee weatherman-turned-blues-guitarist Lew Jetton and his band 61 South have two recordings prior to the present Rain: 2000's self-produced State Line Blues and 2006's Tales From a 2 Lane (Self Produced). They are all other than standard blues fare. While Jetton is more than capable of twisting out a raw 12-or 9-bars, he errs on the side of rock ingenuity, producing a soulful brand of R&B that is less urban than suburban. The guitarist leader is a serviceable vocalist, his guitar better expressing him. Jetton employs a broad bag of tricks to affect his guitar tone. On the topical "Who's Texting," he solos with first a sinewy, jangly-thin tone, then a thick, searing, white-hot branding iron, buried in reverb. "Move on Yvonne" is a cute rave up, while "Mississippi Rain" is a driving tremor propelled by a rabid backbeat. "Lay me Down" is a light soul piece, reminiscent of Eric Clapton's mid-1970s music. "Glory Train" is that bad crazy brand of Jesus-county music, replete with some great country picking. Jetton's sheer variety on this recording is the single best thing to endorse it.

Billy T Band
Reckoning
Bigh Records
2016

The "Billy T" of the Billy T Band is one William R Troiani. A native New Yorker, Billy T earned his bones with Eddie Kirkland and the Tom Russell Band. His band is made up sturdy Norwegian stock, Norway having a bustling blues scene. The band's fourth recording, "Reckoning" is a sleek bit of blue-eyed soul that could be heard as Hall and Oates with an edge or Booker T. and the MGs whispered through a Leslie horn. What strikes me immediately is how well this disc is engineered. The various instruments sound as if hermetically generated and then perfectly combined into a well-scrubbed mix. The guitars on "Shame Shame" are positioned so that one could figuratively walk between them. Oh, and dig the "Mercy, Mercy" quote in the coda. Nice touch. On your own features Aaakon Hoeye's potent, stinging slide guitar, that recalls the sound of one Mick Taylor circa 1973. "One of These Days" is about as 'down home" as this recital gets, Billy T's haggard vocals suspended above a tried and true acoustic guitar harmony. This is easily the most refined of the offerings considered here.

Chris Antonik
Monarch
Factor Canada
2016

That said, Chris Antonik is the most fully realized of the recordings addressed. Monarch is big R&B filtered through a Canadian cloth, captured with perfect sonics. Antonik handles all vocals and lead guitar, both in exceptional fashion. With a hard funk edge, he treats Mike Bloomfield's "Killing My Love" with a gleefully precise vision. There is little organic about these blues. Antonik's approach is one highly stylized and carefully considered. "Slow Moving Train" is driving wall-of-sound, Antonik's guitar solo a fat more of the same. With a full horn section and a keyboard player (Jesse O'Brien) given free synthesized reign, giving Monarch a very specific stylized sound. This record is the perfect example that there is music made, within all genres, to satisfy even the fussiest listener. One must appreciate the craft that went in to the production of this recording because it sounds thoroughly thought out.

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