Most of what pass for ‘major labels’ in the blues world have a readily identifiable sound; when one buys a disc from, say, Alligator Records, one has a reasonable idea of what to expect. There are no such guidelines for indie releases, though. It’s so inexpensive and easy to release a recording these days that almost anyone can do it. My own experience says about half deserve release, while the rest are better off in the basement.
While there may be some significant sound problems with Johnny Mack’s debut, “Gave Myself The Blues,” this is one of those delightful surprises one can enjoy again and again. Johnny’s a treasure, a fixture on the Dallas/Fort Worth scene who’d be sadly unrecognized were it not for Topcat Records.
Things start off quite well with a bright and bouncy “House Party Y’All.” Although the tune sounds familiar, Johnny personalizes things with some name-dropping. The second song, though, a straight-ahead “Cross-Town Girl,” is strictly bar band stuff and sounds it, with production sounding as though the band was in a different room. “Looking For An Angel” is a nice slice of blue-eyed swampy soul, not too polished but Johnny pulls it off with his obvious sincerity. Proof that production has a lot to do with things comes with “Go On To School,” another tune done strictly in a bar band kind of way that actually sounds very, very good, with a raunchy, absolutely irresistible momentum. Same band, but with a surer hand on the controls; this one’s fun, as is ”Can’t Take It With You,” although it’s a bit stretched out. What works well in a bar is often better tightened up when it’s time to record.
“My Baby’s Got It” is a tremelo-laden ramble through the bayou, whereas the title track combines an uptown groove with a grinding beat straight out of Chicago’s grittiest bars, all to excellent effect. “Wait And See” again suffers from substandard recording, but it’s a fine slice of tex-mex soul, Johnny again pouring his heart into it with such conviction that any quibbles are soon forgotten. “My Baby’s Out There” is a swinging number with a Texas feel and some fine piano to drive things along; “Sugar Bee” swings, too, but with a much harder edge that leans to rock ‘n’ roll. Things come to a close with “Quit Hounding My Dog,” a genial romp that leaves an upbeat impression; it’s clear everyone had a ball while cutting it.
Johnny Mack may not be the most polished performer around, but I’ll take passion over polish anytime. He lists all the songs as originals, and while you may not hear anything terribly new, his cheerful mix and match of riffs and lyrics borrows freely from tradition yet never sounds stale.
Production issues aside, “Gave Myself The Blues” is a fun outing; there are no doubt better discs out there, but few are more enjoyable.
P. O. Box 670234
Dallas, TX 75267-0234
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