I’m Just Getting Started
Eleven albums in, bluesman Mick Kolassa is proclaiming a reset of sorts with his latest, I’m Just Getting Started. Having just moved to Memphis from Mississippi and having overcome his wife’s passing due to cancer and his own battle with COVID-19 in recent years, no one can fault Kolassa for announcing a fresh start. Kolassa has branded his style as Free Range Blues, a means of including sub genres of the blues and even faint touches of soul and jazz. Collaborating again with producer and guitarist Jeff Jensen, they’ve tapped into the well of Memphis session greats including keyboardist Rick Steff, and the modern-day two-piece Memphis Horns team of Marc Franklin and Kirk Smothers, among thirteen musicians or vocalists listed in the credits. Kolassa knows the blues idioms inside out, whether acoustic or electric and beyond being prolific and versatile, he consistently proves to be one of the genre’s better lyricists and writers, holding sway with his gravelly, burnished voice.
He begins with rollicking title track, stating “I’ve got tricks no one’s seen yet” typifying one of the blues most popular strains, tongue-in-cheek braggadocio with Brandon Santini (curiously not listed in the credits) pushing the tune along on his blues harp. The slow soul blues of “What Can I Do?” features the tasteful lead guitar of Dexter Allen, who otherwise plays bass on ten of the dozen tracks. The uplifting “Bigger Dreams” glides along with stellar piano from Steff and a sprinkling of blues harp. “Alibis and Lies” touches on jazz with a late-night vibe, a song about modern day tourist trap called Beale Street. It’s a cover of a tune originally done by Chainsaw DuPont and includes terrific guitar from Jensen.
Speaking of covers, Kolassa and Santini then dig into Sleepy John Estes’ “Leaving Trunk,” a tune forever associated with Taj Mahal. It’s the first song that Kolassa and Santini ever played together dating back many years. To their credit, they author a funky arrangement rather than mimicking Taj’s approach. Kolassa and crew tackle two other covers, John Hiatt’s “Real Man,” delivering with a mix of straight-ahead vocals and talking blues macho style, punctuated yet again with blues harp and Steff’s B3. The other is from the one hit wonder, Pacific Gas and Electric’s, rock hit, “Are You Ready?” Kolassa and crew slow the tempo, giving it a slinky roots-gospel feel, with strong backing vocal form Donna Jones Nickelson and well-articulated guitar lines from Jensen. It’s a standout track.
“That Kind of Man” and “Take Me Away” are both smoldering love songs with Jensen in the former using the wah effect tastefully, which is rare for any guitarist. In the latter, Kolassa hits deep soul territory, underpinned by Steff’s B3. “Trying Not to Let the Darkness” is a trademark minor key Kolassa slow blues, autobiographical perhaps given the issues he’s grappled with in recent years. As if to move away from the gloom, he ends with a couple of humorous tunes, “Hardhearted Woman” (“she’s got no soul”…”she could crush any man”) and one that might have been best left out, “How Much Can I Pay You?” about stripper who goes too far, but in a twist it’s the male who wants to pay her for putting her clothes back on. Smothers’ burning tenor sax solo redeems the tune somewhat.
That last one aside, this is a varied program of solid songs and instrumental performances that continue to show why Kolassa is one of our most vital contemporary bluesmen. If he is really just rebooting, the future is even more promising.
- Jim Hynes