As I started a review of last year's "Gone To Hell" disc by John Mooney, I was struck by how original, yet thoroughly influenced, an artist he was. Brand spanking new is "All I Want," again on Blind Pig. Simply put, Mooney seems to be the reincarnation of Eddie "Son" House, who was an incredibly passionate Delta bluesman that first recorded in 1930, later in 1941 and '42 for the Library of Congress, and then in the 1960's, following his rediscovery. House was one of the Delta's most influential players, a man so powerful and arresting that his crashing, riveting style captivated both Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, lynchpins to what happened in Chicago in the late-1940's. Luckily, Mooney was one of a tiny handful who actually learned at the side of Son House, and it's obvious how indelible an impression it has left on Mooney's mature approach.
The title track begins the 45-minute disc and snarling Strat tones permeate the senses while Jeff Sarli's bass thunders along with drums by Bunche Johnson and percussive wrestling from Uganda Roberts. Mooney's voice is the perfect foil for a guitar sensibility that was born in the 1920's and manages to blast decades ahead in tracks such as this, and "Baby Please," a Mooney original that seems to dig itself out of the rich Delta soil as surely as the National slide work does. "Buried Treasure" is no less stunning with its drilling and repetitive guitar figure laying a foundation for Mooney's captivating voice, one with no apparent affectations; he naturally sounds like he was reared in Robinsonville, MS, perhaps down the road from Son House. Roberts kicks in the clutch for "She Ain't No Good," laced with second-line beats, thumping bass, and razor-edged guitar but on Willie Brown's "Future Blues," Mooney steers down a pothole-ravaged Mississippi road in a Terraplane that wobbles and rumbles while staying firmly glued to the gravel. This is no mere reworking of a classic slice of Delta Blues, this is Delta Blues in every sense of the term, whether or not Mooney lived in New York or Michigan at various points in his life, later moving operations to New Orleans. "Feel Like Hollerin' " moves the bar upwards as Roberts and Johnson lay a tribal-patterned foundation for Mooney's startling electric guitar and muscular vocals while on "Tell Me Who," the crew puts a lighter touch to the proceedings. Mooney tackles "Son's Blues" with a backwoods, awe-inspiring preacher voice that raises the hair on your arms, neck, and ankles, and then on Fred McDowell's "You Got To Move," the listener is transported to Mississippi Fred's front porch. Not satisfied just taking a less-traveled route, Mooney believes in eclecticism, and proof lies in Professor Longhair's "Hey Little Girl." Longhair, a Louisiana pianist, was a mix master holding court over vats which offered equal parts blues, New Orleans barrelhouse, Latin beats, second-line grooves, rock 'n' roll, and nearly anything else he was so moved to toss in, and Mooney handles the duties keenly with modern sense and an eye to the past, and with that kind of approach, a piano isn't even needed. The set closes with a Ted Hawkins gem, "If You Love Me," where Roberts' simple backdrop offers support for a hearty and moving piece.
We are sometimes lost to what the past gave us, but John Mooney's dedication to his art allows us an angle usually missing when someone attempts crusted nuggets by the likes of Son House, Willie Brown, or Fred McDowell. A fortunate and gifted man, Mooney handles these precious links to yesterday with grace, maturity, and reckless abandon; qualities that were in abundance in the work of those masters. While others dig precariously to find mannerisms that will infuse their recordings with authenticity, John Mooney has the phrasing, voice, and cutthroat attack firmly entrenched in his soul. www.blindpigrecords.com will offer more information on a fine catalog full of superb blues and roots music.
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