Saturday, 19 December 2015

Johnny Mars - Stateside, album review

Johnny's Life on Earth

The track Remember, midway through this excellent album, is a talking blues with Mars blowing the finest harp, and the reminiscences with Martin and Kennedy indicate the stellar platforms Mars has shared: remembering ’67 to ’68 in the Bay Area, he mentions the following – Jesse Fuller and Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, Joe Louis Walker, Albert Collins [‘The Ice Man’], Charlie Musselwhite, and a wonderful anecdote about playing the blues with Alice Cooper on the back of a flatbed truck in Speedway Meadows. As Mars reflects, those were the days, everything was love and peace. And all the time Mars is playing sublime harp. Then more recalling: Elvin Bishop, Mike Bloomfield, The Sons of Chaplin….

As I said here, I hadn’t heard of Mars before seeing him at this great gig, and discovering more of him now, and the impressive history, is such a joy. Mars spent much of his time living here in England, and this album was meant to help him revive his career in the States. I don’t know how successful this was.

In addition to the brilliant blues played on this album – fair to take that as read – Mars demonstrates a broader and fine songwriting ability: It Takes Time, a soulful and funky pop-blues that also demonstrates his great vocal, a soul-chorus backing this, reminding of The Chamber Brothers. Have You Heard About the Blues is a a beautifully sung ballad, the lyrics expressing concern about the world’s ills – earnestly expressed – and the harp playing is empathetically blown. 

Elsewhere, the band – which is excellent – and Mars blues-stomp across wonderful tracks, Stateside a perfect example and expressing his desire to return home and make it where the blues came from. Fifth, instrumental Move, showcases that band’s great playing [even if invoking the 80s!], and another instrumental Harp Dance does just that. Penultimate Home Sweet Home – Reprise ramps it up with an ecological message, and closer London Blues displays Mars as singer and harpist par excellence. 

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