In The Middle of Nowhere
Rip Cat Records
Harmonica player John Clifton and his brother Bill founded the MoFo Party Band in the late 1980’s. Their 1999 debut recording “Call the Doctor!” made numerous “Best” lists and they followed up with three more albums. As a result Clifton was often featured with Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica Blowout where he played onstage with harp aces James Cotton, Billy Boy Arnold, Rod Piazza, John Mayall, James Harman and Kim Wilson. Clifton’s solo debut was 2015’s “Let Yourself Go”. In 2017 Clifton followed-up with the critically acclaimed “Nightlife”.
This is Clifton’s third studio recording for Rip Cat. The album was produced by Clifton, and recorded, engineered and mixed by Peter Wolf at his Wolfsound Audio Engineering studio in Fresno, California. The band includes Clifton, mandolin, harp and vocals; Scott Abeyta, guitar; Bartek Szopinski, piano; Jake Finney, bass; and Edward Fritz, drums and percussion. The title track is the first of five new songs written by Clifton. “I’m just a poor country boy, that’s all I’ve ever been, I also dreamed I would break out of this mess and never come back again. I live in a place it’s a big disgrace, time just drags on thru, when nothing happens ain’t nothing new, there ain’t a damn thing to do, Out In The Middle of Nowhere…it’s the loneliest place I know”. Clifton then takes an extended harp solo before guitarist Abeyta comes in with his own.
“Cool Spot in Hell” is a wonderfully fluid harp instrumental; Abeyta and Szopinski’s solos follow Clifton’s. “Four Years Ago” includes the lyric “You got mad and you packed to go, you said you didn’t want to be ‘round me no more, what’s got into you baby to make you sore, it was something I did four years ago…something you heard I did four years ago”. “Junkie Woman Blues” is performed in a Piedmont style with Szopinski on piano while Clifton plays mandolin like Yank Rachell; “I got a junkie woman stays high all the time…junkie woman makes a fool out of me”. The last of the originals is “Ain’t Spending No More Money, not another dime on you”. These are well written and well performed.
If that weren’t enough Clifton also gives us six rather obscure covers that reveal his long term commitment. “I’m Leaving You Baby” was a 1959 Excello Records single from Otis Hicks a.k.a. Lightnin’ Slim. “If It Ain’t Me Baby” was a 1956 Chess single from Jay Arthur Lane a.k.a. Jimmy Rogers who also played with Muddy Waters. “Poor Boy” was the title track to Howlin’ Wolf’s 1965 album also on Chess. “Keep It Clean” was written and first recorded by Charley Jordan in 1930. “So Tired I Could Cry” was written by Junior Wells and a 1959 single on Shad Records before appearing on a live album ten years later. The closer is “Honky Tonk Night Time Man” from Merle Haggard that first appeared on his 1995 “Live” album on Hallmark Records.
Clifton gives us a wonderful new recording. This is highly recommended for all blues harp enthusiasts.