March 2008

John-Alex Mason - Town & Country
Naked Jaybird Music NJBM-006
Released: 2008

by Shannon Holliday

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

"Disoriented" was my first reaction upon hearing this latest disc from bluesman John-Alex Mason. Mason hails from the Colorado Rockies, but his musical style and songwriting are firmly anchored in rootsy, southern swamp-blues. His voice is as deep and rich as a cotton-pickin’ slave song or a mammy’s gospel hymn, but Mason’s hair is surfer blonde and his eyes distinctly blue.

Despite these disjoints, which only further prove you should never judge a book by its cover, Town & Country is a thoroughly enjoyable, highly authentic gem of blues both old and new. Mason pays tribute to legends like Skip James and Robert Johnson by covering some of their lesser-known relics ("Cypress Grove" and "Terraplane Blues" respectively), but the bulk of the work was composed by the singer himself and is both distinctive from and complementary to the classics. Broken into halves of town songs and country songs, the album features Mason alone, one-man-band-style on vocals, electric guitar, foot drums, cigar-box guitar and resonator guitar. "Strange Things" is a commentary on the state of world affairs, while "What Are You Hungry For?" grounds the listener in a state of culinary abundance where one can practically smell the fresh-from-the-oven biscuits and is left feeling full. The sound is clean and simple, with open highs and warm resonance on the vocals and guitar.

Mason says, "I wanted to make an album that was true to [my life]. My music is sacred to me and an extension of [myself], and I want my listeners to know I’m really there, vivid and honest, behind my music." We hear you loud and clear, son.