Thursday, June 22, 2023

Mick Kolassa: “Wooden Music” (2023) CD Review

Mick Kolassa released three great albums in the second half of 2022. And here we are in June of 2023, and only now getting his first disc of the year. What happened? What slowed him down? Well, nothing happened, nothing slowed him down. In January, he released TrouTunes And Other Fishing Madness, an album of songs about fishing, but it was released only digitally. And since then, he has put out three compilations of his work – Slow Blues Essentials, Americana Essentials, and Endless Blues Essentials – all of which were also released only digitally. So Wooden Music is actually his second album of new material in 2023, and fifth overall release this year. And there is another compilation coming out soon, I hear. So there. This guy is a creative force, with seemingly endless energy and song ideas. Wooden Music features mostly original compositions, with just one cover. Joining Mick Kolassa on these tracks are Jeff Jensen on guitar, slide guitar and percussion; Carl Casperson on upright bass; Tom Lonardo on drums; and Rick Steff on piano and accordion. There are also several guests on various tracks.

The album opens with “Educated By The Blues,” which begins with these lines: “When I was a young boy, my mama said to me/Got to go to college, son, you got to get a degree/‘Cause that’s the only way in this life to get ahead.” My parents said the same thing to me, and I imagine most of us heard that sort of thing. And most of us did get that degree. Ah, but what an education the blues can give you. And here Mick Kolassa tells us just who taught which courses: “Sonny Boy taught me about the weather, what to do when I get cold/Junior Kimbrough taught me all about getting old/Wolf showed me how to howl, Muddy taught me to be ready/Robert Johnson, he helped me keep rolling steady.” This track features some good work by Eric Hughes on harmonica, and a light, cheerful rhythm. And it features Doug MacLeod on guitar. Mick Kolassa was educated by the blues, and here he is passing on what he learned. And the song provides a reminder that one’s education should never end: “Educated by the blues, I’m learning new things every day.”

“You Gotta Pay The Price” is a somewhat slower, meaner number. I love when Mick Kolassa goes down into his lower register, as he does on this song. Ah, sounds so damn cool. And check out these lyrics, which I’m sure everyone can appreciate: “Some people got it made before they even start to breathe/They grow up knowing they’re going to get what they need/But not the folks who have to work for what they get/Worrying about the small things and taking on debt.” And the chasm between the rich and everyone else is getting greater with each passing year, it seems. This track features some really good work on guitar, and nice stuff on accordion. Doug MacLeod joins Mick Kolassa again on guitar on this one. That’s followed by “Sugar In Your Grits,” a playful number, in which Mick Kolassa sings, “Maybe it’s progress, maybe it’s wrong/To be rockin’ the blues and puttin’ sugar in your grits.” And the education begun in the album’s first track continues here: “Muddy never played a twenty minute solo/And Wolf didn’t use a pedal board/Willie Dixon told stories with every one of his songs/Hey, do lyrics even matter anymore?” Oh yes, they absolutely do. Some great harmonica playing matters too. Bob Corritore is on harmonica on this track

The album’s only cover is “Baby Took A Limo To Memphis,” a song written by Guy Clark. Libby Rae Watson joins Mick Kolassa on vocals here, making the song a duet, adding a bit of conversation at the beginning. Mick says, “Baby, I just got this bill/What were you thinking?” And Libby Rae Watson replies, “Well, honey, you don’t have to be a millionaire to look like one.” And it is she who sings the lines, “Well, the shortest distance between two towns/Is riding in a limo with the windows down.” There is more good stuff on harmonica, this time by Eric Hughes. Then “If I Told You” kicks off with a good beat on drums, and is another seriously cool tune. This time it is Vince Johnson on harmonica, delivering some excellent work. This is a totally catchy song, with some rock elements, and the band jams a bit here. Mick Kolassa tells the woman how he feels in this line: “But I love you more than B.B. loved Lucille.” And if your blues education is going well, you know just exactly what he’s saying there. Mick Kolassa changes gears with “Hurt People,” which begins with these lines: “She feared and hated life/And the pain that she felt/Hated everyone around her/She learned to hate herself.” The music has a beautifully sad sound to accompany those lines, and features some really nice work on piano. Reba Russell and Susan Marshall add to the warmth and compassion with their backing vocals.

Tas Cru joins Mick Kolassa on guitar for “Memphis Wood.” This song has more of a gentle folk vibe and features some good work on accordion. “I once had a girl/But I was fooling myself/She said that she loved me/She loved somebody else/I looked to find comfort/Wherever I could/Found consolation in this sweet Memphis wood.” I like that he gives a little laugh after the line “She said that she loved me.” He finds comfort in music, in the strings of a guitar. My guess is that anyone who is reading this also finds comfort in music. This song has a pretty sound. That’s followed by “If Life Was Fair,” which has a lighter, fun vibe from the start. Ah, how many times have we wished life could be fair. But it just isn’t. If it were, people like Pat Robertson wouldn’t live to be 93, while good, honest folks die at much younger ages. “If life was fair, we’d never be apart/But that’s not life, not the way that it works/It just keeps ripping at your heart.” But this is no pessimistic number, for he reminds us, “You gotta stay strong, you gotta hang on/Keep doing what you know you need to do/Don’t let it slip, don’t loosen your grip/And good things will come to you.” I love the piano on this one.

“Over My Shoulder” is delightful and cheerful. Mick Kolassa begins this one with these lines: “I got some good ol’ friends I’ve known for years/Who love to talk about yesterday/But I keep thinking about tomorrow/And the roles and games I still get to play.” Oh, yes, more optimism. We need this, and Mick Kolassa is just the guy to deliver it. His voice is one you immediately trust. He urges us to not dwell on the past, to keep on keeping on. And I love this line: “I got hopes, but no expectations.” Interestingly, the first line of the next song looks back: “Back in the day I could party hard with my friends.” This is a song about getting older, but he laughs it off here, which I appreciate. I also appreciate the main idea of this song, about how he used to smoke pot as part of a party, now uses it as “a sleeping aid” (yeah, you get the play on the idea of “one hit wonder”). Same thing goes for alcohol with me. I used to be able to have six drinks and be okay; now that number is cut in half. Oh well, it means spending less money on alcohol, so there’s the bright side. And this music is all about bright sides. Everything feels brighter when listening to this album. This track features some nice work on both accordion and guitar. The album concludes with “Gas Station Sushi,” another playful, light number. It even features kazoo. “Girl, you remind me of gas station sushi/You sure seemed like a good idea/But it didn’t take long to find out I was wrong/You’re not close to being as good as you first appeared.”

CD Track List

  1. Educated By The Blues
  2. You Gotta Pay The Price
  3. Sugar In Your Grits
  4. Baby Took A Limo To Memphis
  5. If I Told You
  6. Hurt People
  7. Memphis Wood
  8. If Life Was Fair
  9. Over My Shoulder
  10. One Hit Wonder
  11. Gas Station Sushi

Wooden Music is scheduled to be released on July 7, 2023 on Endless Blues Records.

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