Before I begin this review, I should probably mention that I've been an unabashed fan of R.J. Mischo since the first time I caught him live several years ago, owning all of his material on record as well as a few of his live tapes that I was fortunate enough to come across. Thus, before this disc made it to my CD player, I was prepared to be blown away. And I was.
The first thing that struck me about this disc was the contemporary feel that becomes evident from the opening notes. Unlike Ready To Go!, which could easily pass for a circa 1957 Chess Recording, or Gonna Rock Tonight, which drips with urban authenticity, Cool Disposition has a modern virtuoso appeal, not unlike that of Mark Hummel or Gary Primich. Secondly, while previous efforts by Mr. Mischo have been based around traditional blues grooves paying homage to obvious influences, this disc contains what is undoubtedly R.J.'s most dynamic musical exhibitions yet, touching on several distinctive styles, and failing to approach mediocrity on all accounts.
The disc begins with "(Everybody's) In The Mood," arranged jump style and highlighted by a remote but noticeable growl on the vocals. From the opening notes the tightness of the band is evident, as the combination of Billy Black and Richard Innes holding the groove is second to none. The following "I Should Be Dead," a comical lifestyle parody, is admittedly somewhat tame compared to the gut wrenching versions incorporated into his live performances, but effective nonetheless. The guitar solo from Jeremy Johnson is masterfully minimalistic, with precise bends and poignant phrasing. Mischo's interpretation of "Cold Hearted Woman" is dark, deep and delicately dreary, again containing masterful phrasing on the solos. The following "Get Your Money" is uptown slick, with a loose off the cuff feel from all sections.
The first of many highlights of this disc, "Second Wind," is based around a West Coast pseudo swing groove vaguely reminiscent of the Hollywood Fats band. Mischo handles the vocal chores confidently and naturally on this one, while his harp solo has the definitive off the cuff improvised feel that he's made his trademark. The arrangement of Junior Parker's "Love My Baby," is guitar oriented on the attack, with piercing grind grooves that are further complemented by Mischo's railroad howls.
Another highlight of the disc is "Taste Of My Own Medicine." Blending perfectly phrased chops against a mildly melancholy groove, this track drips emotion from each note, dark yet slightly sensuous. The guitar solo is simply dazzling, each bend coaxing delight in passages as sweet as honey. The vocal delivery is deep and heartfelt, the harp solo sparkles, and the entire selection permeates a natural aura of authenticity.
Returning to traditional flavors for a few tracks, the instrumental "Main Street Strut" is a straight ahead harp jam based heavily on Little Walter references. While no new ground is broken on this selection, Mischo's stylistic interpretation is every bit as solid as those done by more prominent harpmen such as Kim Wilson or Mark Hummel. Conversely, Mischo's cover of Sonny Boy's "Little Village" is illustrative of his masterful prowess at original arrangements, ranking right up there with his spectacular though as of yet unrecorded renditions of "Lucy Mae Blues" and "Kansas City."
The following "A - OK," an optimistic shuffle, loosely resembles the wonderful "I've Got A Feeling" that appears on Gonna Rock Tonight! The approach is twangier and more guitar oriented, while the groove is completely in the pocket. The slow blues "Don't Bring A Friend," well jammed and filled with pointed licks from each instrumentalist, is followed by the fast and furious "Skinny Woman," another prime example of traditional lyrics combined with original arranging.
Nearing the end of the disc, "High Maintenance Woman" is raunchy and brash, containing enough friskiness from all of the instrumentalists to give it just enough punch. The piano passages are brisk and cool, while the vocals are deliciously salty. And again, the rock solid rhythm section is tough as nails, blending perfectly with Mischo's loose harp licks. "Dangerous Boy," a jump blues arranged traditional style, displays an exciting chop trading duet between Mischo and Barrelhouse Chuck, backdropped by a rhythm stomp that hits just right. Similarly, the disc's finale "Travelin' All Day," a straight shuffle and perhaps autobiographical, contains a soothing and respectful guitar / piano lick swap, concluding the disc on a savory note.
All in all, the disc contains 15 tracks, none of which are mediocre, and many of which are spectacular. Fans of RJ Mischo will find this release a welcome addition to an already illustrious catalog, while neophytes will probably be coerced into racing out and purchasing the remainder of his releases.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Brian Dyke, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.