- New Beale Street Blues 3:23
- Blues Are All Around You 4:04
- The Letter 4:40
- Reefer Man 3:17
- Blues in the Night 4:56
- Burned That Bridge 3:10
- Land of the Crossroads 3:54
- Baby’s Got Another Lover 7:25
- Blowtorch Love 4:11
- WPD 3:22
- Time Ain’t On My Side 3:44
- Mississippi River Blues 2:33
There are 12 tracks on this album, 7½ originals and 4½ covers. The odd fractional numbering is because the opening track is only partly original and partly cover.
Mick has recorded a blend of original songs and added in a few surprise covers. With songs ranging from the rock-solid electric blues of “Blowtorch Love” to the jug-band style reworking of WC Handy’s classic “Beale Street Blues,” this album gives the listener a taste of many styles of the blues.
Mick and Producer Jeff Jensen have reworked the rock classic “The Letter” into a slow blues and brought it back to Memphis, and in their hands the Johnny Mercer Jazz standard “Blues in the Night” is given its bluesiest take ever. The album incorporates several blues styles and forms, taking full advantage of Mick’ tastes and experience as well as the talents of the amazing musicians who helped him put this together.
This album is a celebration of the blues, with support by some of the genre’s fastest rising stars. Produced by Jeff Jensen, who also is featured on lead guitar, Jeff and Mick assembled a dream team with Bill Ruffino on bass, Doug McMinn on drums, and Chris Stephenson on organ. This core band was joined by such notables as Victor Wainwright, Brandon Santini and Eric Hughes. Also contributing their amazing vocal talents are Reba Russell and Redd Velvet.
This album is a labor of love; 100% of the gross proceeds will go to the Blues Foundation, split between two very important programs: the HART Fund and Generation Blues.
New Beale Street Blues
The original Beale Street Blues was written by W.C. Handy in 1916, during Prohibition, and about a place that doesn’t exist today as it did then. In 1916 Beale Street was a segregated area, frequented only by African Americans, as it was for many decades. Today Beale Street is certainly not “dry” as in the original lyric, and its clientele has changed quite a bit. For many it is still the geographic center of the Blues, and it is also the site of some great musical performances. I took the liberty of “updating” Mr Handy’s classic song to make it more relevant to contemporary audiences and to celebrate today’s Beale Street while remembering its fantastic legacy. Eric Hughes joined us on this to make it truly special. It seemed fitting to begin the album with this number.
The Blues Are All Around You
This song contains the single wildest solo Jeff Jensen ever recorded. Couple that with Chris Stephenson’s amazing B3 sound and I believe we have captured the paranoid feeling we were going for in this song about being unable to shake the blues – they’re everywhere you go. Not a typical 1-4-5 blues tune, we took some liberties with the structure to get this feel.
This song is a classic – it came from Memphis in the ‘60s. I have always loved it and loved to sing it. Over the years it occurred to me that this sweet number could be even sweeter as a slow blues. I love this version – Jeff and I worked on this arrangement for quite a while and the addition of Reba Russell’s backing vocals to the Chris Stephenson B3 dominated tune simply brings it back to Memphis and takes it to church.
Cab Calloway popularized this song in the 1930s – before most people had any idea what it meant. Risky and racy then it is just flat out fun today. I have sung this tune for years and so has Jeff, so we simply had to include it. Victor Wainwright’s piano work on this song really takes it to another level.
Blues in The Night
This standard from the big band era seldom gets covered today, but its classic lyrics and haunting melody deserve some attention from blues fans. We wanted to keep the jazz roots by featuring a trumpet but also felt the need to bring it down South to Memphis and Brandon Santini’s subtle harp playing on this number simply saturates the tune with the Mississippi River. I also happen to think that Jeff Jensen’s solo on this tune is the prettiest work he has ever done.
Burned That Bridge
A fun song on a classic blues theme – love gone bad. This upbeat number has Reba Russell adding her magic to it while the band trades off solos. This one is just for fun!
Land of the Crossroads
This is a love song to my adopted State of Mississippi. This song evolved through a series of styles without ever really changing. Beginning as a “hill country” one-chord tune, it soon took on a John Lee feel as we worked it out. Brandon Santini came in and it felt like Chester Burnett was watching over us. I have a lot of friends who have never been here tell me what they think Mississippi is like; this song is my response to them.
Baby’s Got Another Lover
This is a song about addiction, and it is the most emotional thing I have ever done. Many people have loved ones with substance abuse problems, and this is for all of them.
Another fun tune, a song about a lover so hot and dangerous that she is like a blowtorch. Brandon Santini’s blowtorch harmonica solo will make your hair stand on end, and when Redd Velvet joins in she really does bring fire from the sky!
This song is what it is. Please, don’t take yourself too seriously, this was and is fun.
Time Ain’t On My Side
I realized that despite singing the song, I no longer have “everything a good girl needs,” even though I am built for comfort, not speed. This is a tune about getting older and accepting it. Brandon and Victor team up to really deliver some nice solos on this and I would be remiss as a sexagenarian if I didn’t acknowledge the inspiration for the title from the Stones and for the opening lick from John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
Mississippi River Blues
In 2013 Jimmie Rodgers, the “Blue Yodeler” and the “Singing Brakeman” was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Jimmie’s music influenced many of the blues legends, both Muddy and Wolf credit him with influencing their music, and Wolf said that he wanted to yodel like Jimmie but couldn’t, so he developed his howl instead. I have sung this song for over 40 years, introducing it to people at folk festivals and even military service clubs as I sang it over the years. I couldn’t imagine not including it here.
The album was produced by Jeff Jensen, an amazing guitarist and a great friend. Jeff helped me with this in more ways than I can count, including urging me to make this album in the first place.
His guidance throughout the production process has been essential, and his advice and choices have been impeccable. When you hear the music you will be hearing Jeff as much as you hear me – and believe me that’s a very good thing!
Jeff’s guitar work on these songs is amazing. People who know Jeff know how emotionally he plays – he feeds on the emotion of a song and amplifies it in his playing. Not only that, Jeff has an understanding of and appreciation for many styles of music, and knows when to draw from each to take a tune where is should go to be complete. That talent makes any number better, and we got into some emotional feedback loops on this album that helped us to take the songs to heights (and depths) we could not has imagined. Jeff’s emotional playing on Baby’s Got Another Lover is a prime example of this – but also check out the fun he had on Reefer Man and WPD.
The rhythm section of a band can lift it up, hold it back, or carry it forward, and having Bill Ruffino and Doug McMinn provide the foundation for the music can only carry it forward. Bill is a masterful musician who cares so deeply about what he does that it infects everyone. In the meantime he can lay down a bottom end to a song that is something special. And Doug, he is a percussionist who absolutely loves music. I’ve never known a drummer to smile as much as Doug – you can tell just by watching him that he is living his dream – and you can tell by listening that the dream appreciates it!
Rounding out the core of the group is organist Chris Stephenson. His deft touch on the B3 can bring a song to life – and his jokes can keep the life going in between takes. You can feel Chris’ touch in many of the songs on this album, in his hands the B3 brings a life force to the songs that no one else could. Check out The Letter to hear Chris at his best.
I had the real pleasure of being joined on several songs by some great friends who are even greater musicians. Blues Music Award (BMA) nominated harmonica player Brandon Santini stopped in to lay down some tracks that are among the best he has ever done. From sweet acoustic on Land of the Crossroads to blazing electric on Blowtorch Love, Brandon’s harp playing is always captivating and my buddy pulled out all the stops on these tracks – and everything he plays on here.
MA winner and Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year Victor Wainwright plays some amazing blues and boogie woogie on several songs on this album – if you can listen to that and not tap your foot then you ain’t listening! Victor’s take on Reefer Man is infectious, and his contributions to Time Ain’t On My Side and Blowtorch Love just make those tunes pop!
Two very special ladies also pitched in. Reba Russell brought every one of her voices to the party, providing backup on numbers like The Letter and Burned that Bridge that simply completed them – they could not have been half as good without her angelic voice – and the sessions would not have been as much fun without her devilish attitude! We also had the distinct pleasure of having “the Sassy Sage” Miss Redd Velvet stop in to bless us with her awesome voice and lyrical input on Blowtorch Love. This lady can bring down fire from the sky!
And my buddy Eric Hughes pitched in by laying down some great harp on my update of Beale Street Blues. Eric has been a staple on Beale Street for a number of years, and with that history and his love of (and artistry in) “jug band” type music, I just couldn’t imagine not having him be a part of this. As you will see, his contribution was stellar.
Other great friends helped out, with Danny Banks doing triple duty with backing vocals on WPD and adding percussion to other tracks. Jumping James Cunningham also joined in, recovering from a very unfortunate accident (Vespas and SUVs just don’t play well together). James manned the cowbell on WPD to help give it even more life. Dedrick Davis, longtime Memphis trumpet player, joined us to take “Blues In The Night” back uptown after we took it to the delta. His sweet blowing really made that tune pop!
Ted Todd and Preston McKewan (drummer for the Ghost Town Blues Band) joined Bill, Jeff and me to add backing vocals to Reefer Man, and we had way too much fun doing that. Add to this group Adam Hill, a seriously warped engineer at Ardent Studios and a wonderful guy to work with. Adam’s suggestions and additions did a lot to bring this album to realize its potential, including the suggestion that we use that crazy amp!
James Bennett who did additional engineering at Soulsway Studios, also contributed greatly to this effort; his suggestions were always valuable and his enthusiasm was greatly appreciated. Dawn Hopkins the MixMistress, made this all sound so good! I’ve never seen anyone work that hard, and I am grateful for every minute she spent on this. Brad Blackwood did the mastering, which gave this album the deep and rich sound you will hear.