March 2nd, 2011
Title: Jook Joint Thunderclap
Artist: John-Alex Mason
Label: Naked Jaybird Music
Catalog No.: NJBM008
Release Date: February 15, 2011
John-Alex Mason’s sixth full-length album, Jook Joint Thunderclap, branches out from his one-man band reputation. Although Mason’s signature guitar (acoustic, electric, and cigar-box) and floor drums sound comes through on several tracks, what really makes this album stand out from his previous work is the new elements brought in by Gerry Hundt’s mandolin, Fara Tolno’s djembe, Lightnin’ Malcolm’s guitar, Cedric Burnside’s drums, and most of all Cody Burnside’s rap-style vocals. The result is a convincing and appealing fusion of a wide variety of styles that nevertheless allows Mason’s playing and singing to shine through.
“Delta Bound (Prologue)*” kicks off the album with a driving early rock ‘n’ roll feeling, cut with Gerry Hundt’s harmonica and Mason’s blues-colored singing. The tune straddles generic boundaries with elements borrowed from multiple traditions, but clearly fits into Mason’s typical blues and rock style. The sense of sharp juxtaposition increases in the second track, “Gone So Long.” The track opens in a blues-rock style with electric guitar, drums, and Mason’s vocals, but abruptly changes tone as Cody Burnside’s rap-style rhymes reorient the listener’s perception of the guitar and drum parts. The instruments take on more of a heavy acoustic funk quality under Burnside’s lyrics, even though they do not change significantly over the course of the track.
The next track, “More than Wind,” shifts gears once again, as Mason layers his slow blues delivery over the string-band sounds of fiddle (provided by Lionel Young) and mandolin.
Jook Joint Thunderclap absorbs an eclectic mix of influences from different musicians and performers. Its juxtapositions of musical styles from track to track, as well as within each cut, might be disorienting were it not for Mason’s distinct vocal style bonding and anchoring the many voices that sound on the album. It demonstrates both Mason’s flexibility and strong sense of personal identity as a musician, and its hybrid sound offers something for a wide variety of tastes.
Reviewed by Paul E. Killinger