John The Revelator
Checkerboard Lounge Recordings
Vermont bluesman John Fusco is also a screenwriter, and producer. His 17 movies include 1986’s semi-autobiographical “Crossroads” on which he collaborated with Ry Cooder and blues harp legend Sonny Terry. He was also screenwriter for “Young Guns”; “Young Guns II”, and 2019’s Netflix hit “The Highwaymen” starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson. His debut blues album was the highly acclaimed 2019 “John Fusco and The X-Road Riders”. This new album is Fusco’s follow-up recording.
The X-Road Riders includes Fusco, Hammond B-3, piano, acoustic guitar and vocals; producer Cody Dickinson, drums, bass, guitars, dobro and electric washboard; Risse Norman, vocals; and Sarah “The Bone Doctor” Morrow, a former bandleader for Dr. John, trombone. Special guests include Mark Lavoie or Ronnie Klingsberg, harmonica; Patrick Ross, fiddle; co-producer George Walker Petit, guitar and bass; Kurt Pierson, guitar; Dennis Diego, bass; Spencer Perry, drums; and background vocalists Brickett Bailey, Cassandra Machia, Julia Simons and Rosalie Wasser. The album was recorded and mixed by Dickinson at his home studio, The Checkerboard Lounge, in Southaven, Mississippi; and by Petit at the Meadowlark Studio in Burlington, Vt. The cover’s artwork is from keyboardist Bobby Whitlock who played with Derek & The Dominoes.
Fusco states “The first album was a loose, high-octane jam sesh, and Cody hit the record button. This next one digs into some deeper emotional clay…”. “Braiding the more emotional ballads in with the raw blues rockers and traditional blues stuff, makes the album a little more unexpected and mercurial.”
The opening title track, the Delta blues classic “John The Revelator”, was written and first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1930, and adapted by Son House in 1970, and features Fusco on acoustic guitar. Oliver Sain’s “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing”, originally recorded by the soulful duo of Fontella Bass and Bobby McClure in 1965, is performed here as a duet between Fusco and Norman. The remaining eighteen tracks on this double album are all Fusco originals.
Dickinson plays guitar on “Baker Man” with Klingsberg on harp. “Bone Deep” features Lavoie on harmonica and the lyric “Everybody askin’ what I’m doing back down on Beale”, while Fusco plays the B-3. Morrow plays trombone, on “It Takes A Man”, with the addition of the four background vocalists. Fusco plays piano on the gospel styled “Ophelia” with a Leon Russell inspired vocal. The love song “Applejack Brandy” features Ross on fiddle. On “Why You Chose Me” Dickinson switches to Dobro. “Bad Dog” features a band that includes harmonic ace Lavoie, guitarists Petit and Pierson, bassist Diego, and Perry on drums. Fusco switches back to piano on “Snake Oil Man” and it closes out the first disc. The second disc contains ten more highly enjoyable well written songs including “Song For Peter” with Petit on lead guitar. The emotional “Language of Angels” once again features fiddler Ross; while another favorite is the fabulous “Jacqueline”.
This diverse collection of Fusco’s songs could have been broken up into two separate cds, but Dickinson said “Release them all. This is all part of this one flow that represents your music at this time.” If you liked the first album you will love this follow up.