Blind Lemon Sessions
Mississippi-based guitarist/vocalist and blues historian Mick Kolassa traveled to Germany to make this album, apparently the first of three that will result from his trip. Specifically it relates to the invitation from Thomas Schleiken, who runs Blind Lemon Records. (For those of you familiar with the artist Blind Lemon Pledge, this has no relation to his work). The Blind Lemon Sessions is an acoustic set of a dozen two-three minute tunes, a mix of originals and covers, rendered by Kolassa and a few friends demonstrating how the idiom can be played with finesse and class unplugged, even though a couple of tunes are on the bawdy side (making it even more genuine since old style blues often carried those themes).
Kolassa has a deep voice perfectly suited for the blues and could carry this material quite easily by himself, yet the interplay of strings, harmonica, and violin is often the strength of the effort. Kolassa plays a variety of instruments including six and 12 string acoustics, baritone guitar, baritone ukulele, and banjolele. David Dunavent joins on guitar, slide guitar, and banjo with support from Eric Hughes (harmonica) and Alice Hasen (violin). Seth Hill and Bill Ruffino share bass, depending on the track. Both Kolassa and Dunavent sprinkle in percussion in a few places too.
Schleiken originally invited Kolassa to record a couple of songs for a compilation album but it eventually expanded into this and eventually there will be a separate compilation ukulele album as well – three in all. Kolassa calls this one “a little more exploration of Free Range Blues.” Some of the numbers such as the Beatles’ help are not blues and a couple of his originals likely fall closer to Americana. There’s no electricity. It has the feel of a casual, front porch picking session.
He begins with his take on Lonnie Johnson’s “Mr. Jellyroll Baker,” a song that Mick has been singing for about 50 years. The humorous original “Text Me Baby” follows, with some clever lines about a new way to communicate. “Keep On Truckin” is a cover, featuring Mick’s banjolele and his original “I Want To Be seduced” has the baritone ukulele. “Mr Right,” an original, is the epitome of the bawdy blues song fueled by same harmonica from Hughes and Dunavent’s slide. “Bad Things,” from Jace Everett, is a modern take on the same theme.
Taj Mahal’s “Cake walk Into Town” features some of the best guitar leads while “St. James Infirmary,” featuring expressive violin from Hasen, and “Ditty Wah Ditty” have long been in Kolasssa’s repertoire, prime examples of what he says in the liners, “a chance to stretch my vocal cords and different guitar chords as I travel through several keys and subgenres of music…” “Recycle Me” is another revealing example of Kolassa’s humor, taking a modern subject into old school blues. “Help” is taken at a slow tempo, markedly differently than the upbeat original, thereby making it a plea with more accent on the lyrics. The brief closer, “The Space Between Us” is about the end of a long relationship but is not based on personal experience but on a movie title instead.
This is a casual, carefree listen that may at times have you smiling. Kolassa is a master of the idiom and can always be counted on to deliver a first rate recording. We look forward to the others forthcoming from his trip to Germany.
- Jim Hynes