"West Wind Blowin'" is R.J. Mischo's first album since moving to the Bay Area. Although the scenery may have changed, the effects have all been positive. "West Wind Blowin'" is Mischo's best recording to date, even surpassing the acclaimed "Cool Disposition," which was also released by the German Crosscut label. He's aided and abetted by a particularly good band: Rusty Zinn and Steve Freund handle most of the guitar work; Randy Bermudes and Johnny Ace share bass duties; and the drumming is split between Walter Shufflesworth--great name for a drummer--and Jimmy Mulleniux.
The recording has a live feel about it. It's almost as if you push through the doors of an empty club, and there's the band giving it their all on the opener "Money Back Guarantee." Immediately afterwards the band launch into the first of eight covers: a cracking version of Hound Dog Taylor's "Watch Out," and these opening tracks set the standard for the rest of the album. Fortunately the band maintain the level throughout, with the seven original tracks standing up very well alongside the covers.
Naturally, three of the covers are by influential harp players (Big Walter Horton, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Jerry McCain). Mischo pays particular homage to SBW on the excellent harp workout of "Goat Whiskers" before launching himself into a version of the great man's "Going In Your Direction," and "R.J. Getup! Milk That Cow" has that SBW feel to it too. Anyone who has to get up early to go to work, especially on those cold winter mornings will empathize with the sentiments of the latter tune. It works particularly well with the band stripped right back to Mischo on harp and Randy Bermudes on double bass.
The best track is saved to last: "South City Fog" just edges out "Goat Whiskers" and "It's My Life, Baby." Mischo achieves the perfect tone for this highly evocative and moody instrumental. It sounds like it should be playing over the opening titles of a Raymond Chandler detective movie, and just leaves you hankering for more.
"West Wind Blowin'" is Mischo's best album to date. He's surrounded himself with a stack of quality musicians, and it shows. Everything falls into place perfectly, which helps explain why it took just a couple of days to cut the album. Mischo is in good voice, and his harp playing is up to its usual excellent standard. "West Wind Blowin'" is West Coast meets Chicago Blues at its very best.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.