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CD REVIEWS – Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album

Downbeat

Unheralded bluesman Mick Kolassa, who lived for three decades in Mississippi before relocating to Memphis, makes good albums on a regular basis. His first Xmas one is better than good; it has the stuff to become a minor classic. Inventive makeovers of the usual Xmas picks and some strong original songs show the value of Kolassa’s slow-and-easy approach to singing lyrics. His weathered, imprecise voice aches with true-blue experience, even when he keeps a strong upper lip. The performance with its sharpest edge of emotion is his bittersweet tune “The Best Christmas Ever.”


Jazz & Blues

Mick Kolassa has been rather prolific in producing blues recordings. His latest is a recording of Holiday favorites with a few originals. Once again, he has collaborated with guitarist Jeff Jensen for this recording. Mick brings his vocals and guitar along with that of Jensen. Others on this session are Bill Ruffino on bass, Rick Staff on keyboards, and James Cunningham on drums. Selected tracks include Eric Hughes on harmonica and Marc Franklin on trumpet, while Reba Russell and Susan Marshall add backing vocals.

Kolassa is a pleasant vocalist enough, but in the context of the songs here, he invests his grainy vocals with considerable charm, as implied by the album title referring to Uncle Mick. The performances are handsomely rendered, with Jensen contributing some first-rate guitar, with others adding memorable solos. One doesn’t expect to hear a bluesy cover of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Then, Kolassa delights before a Caribbean-tinged rendition of “Frosty the Snowman,” whose highlights include Franklin’s trumpet solo and Hughes’ harmonica embellishments. With a lazy-sounding backing, Kotassa sings about his love being there, making it “The Best Christmas Ever.”

Kotassa’s laid-back vocal provides just the right mood for a cover of “Merry Christmas Baby.” Jensen is especially outstanding here. “Jingle Bells” sounds like a new song with Jensen’s trebly guitar and a lazy funk groove followed by the light musical setting for “Winter Wonderland.” Franklin’s trumpet adds atmosphere to the genial delivery of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” At the same time, Kotassa sings more forcefully on “Christmas Morning Blues,” where his love has gone, taken the presents he bought for her, but she bought him none. It is a vibrant Chicago blues shuffle with Hughes adding a harp solo.

The closing track is “Beale Street Christmas Jam,” with all the band members fitting a classic Christmas song into this instrumental shuffle. It is a spirited close to a toe-tapping collection of bluesy Christmas songs sure to warm the Holiday spirits Ron Weinstock – Issue 399


Blues Bytes

When Mick Kolassa recorded Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album (Endless Blues Records) in Memphis, the temperature hovered around 95˚. If you live in the south and you plan to release a Christmas album, you are going to be recording it in less than frigid conditions. That’s perfectly fine in this case, because this may be one of the coolest Christmas albums you’ve heard in a while. Kolassa and company (Jeff Jensen – guitar, Bill Ruffino – bass, Rick Steff – keys, James Cunningham – drums, Eric Hughes – harmonica, Mark Franklin – trumpet, and Reba Russell and Susan Marshall – backing vocals) give this album a greasy, soulful yuletide feel. There are a lot of familiar tunes present, but unlike you’ve ever heard them before.

Opening with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Kolassa effectively delivers it as a soulful, slow blues tune. Next is a fantastic take on “Frosty the Snowman” that marries Memphis to New Orleans in a way that will have toes tapping and heads bobbing. Kolassa contributes a few original songs among the nine tracks, the first of which is the deliciously funky, slightly spicy “The Best Christmas Ever,” which is followed by a wonderful read of the blues classic “Merry Christmas Baby,” which features some superb guitar work.

Three traditional Christmas tunes follow: ”Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” While none of these are usually considered to be “blues” tunes, Kolassa puts a very bluesy spin on all three songs. “Jingle Bells” has a old school, almost dangerous rock ‘n’ roll feel, “Winter Wonderland” strikes a loose-limbed, carefree groove, and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is a nice, warm R&B track that features Jensen on guitar, Franklin on trumpet, and Steff on a variety of instruments.

The last two tracks are originals. First is Kolassa’s rip-roaring blues rocker “Christmas Morning Blues,” where he wakes up to a house missing his lover, his car, and his Christmas presents. The closer is a lot of fun, an instrumental called “Beale Street Christmas Jam,” where the band members take turns fitting classic Christmas songs into a 12-bar blues shuffle.

Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album has a pretty high spot in my list of Favorite Yuletide Albums. Chances are pretty good that it will occupy a high spot on yours, too. Check it out. ~ Blues Bytes


Bman’s Blues Report

I just had the opportunity to review the most recent release, Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album, by Mick Kolassa, and it’s quite entertaining. Opening with Mariah Carey’s, All I Want For Christmas, and I think its a real solid cover. Never been crazy about pop music and Kolassa’s slow bluesy approach with Jeff Jensen on lead guitar, Bill Ruffino on bass, Rick Steff on keys and James Cunningham on drums gives this track a new, fresher life. Original track, The Best Christmas Ever, is up next with a funky R&B approach. Kolassa on lead vocal and with warm backing vocals by Reba Russell and Susan Marshall over cool piano and organ work by Steff set a nice stage and pinched down guitar soloing by Jensen adds spice. Johnny Moore’s Merry Christmas Baby really gives Jensen a chance to show some real nice riffs both bluesy and jazzy making it one of my favorites on the release. Tom tom laden rhythm gives Jingle Bells and whole new face. Get far enough from the music that you can’t hear the words and I defy you to determine that it’s Jingle Bells. This swampy, Dr Joh like approach is really cool and again, Jensen’s guitar work adds real shine to the apple. Very nice. Wrapping the release is a Jensen/Kolassa original, Beale Street Christmas Jam, a hot shuffle ala Gatemouth Brown style. Jensen always has great riffs, and here he’s complimented by Marc Franklin on trumpet (solo), Cunningham on drums (solo), Ruffino on bass (solo), Eric Hughes on harmonica (solo). This track will get your foot tapping. Excellent closer. ~ Bman’s


Reflections In Blue

It takes quite a bit for a Christmas album to get my attention…and even more for me to honestly like it.  Mick Kolassa has done all that, and more.  Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album is one of those things that I can see myself playing throughout the year.  Memphis Blues through and through, the album offers a fresh take on some holiday classics, and a trio of new tunes that capture the Christmas spirit.  Recorded in the 95-degree heat of a Memphis summer, the album features Mick, with some of the finest musicians Memphis has to offer, doing what they do best.  The result is upbeat, soulful, funky, and absolutely respectful of the genre.  Mariah Carey may strike a killer pose in her Santa suit, but Mick’s rendition of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is, hands down, the best version of the tune I have heard to date.  That is followed by “Frosty The Snowman” with a bit of New Orleans flair.  Other classics include “Merry Christmas Baby”, “Jingle Bells”, “Winter Wonderland”, and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.  The original tunes offer insight into what Christmas is all about.  “The Best Christmas Ever” is a funky and soulful love song, “Christmas Morning Blues” is a reminder that not all Christmases are merry, and “Beale Street Christmas Jam” gives each of the musicians to strut their stuff.  This album is sure to brighten your holiday season.  Merry Christmas to all.  – Bill Wilson


Phil’s Picks

Mick Kolassa’s recently released holiday music collection, Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album is unquestionably one of the top titles in this year’s field of new holiday music records.  That is proven from beginning to end of the nearly 40-minute record through its unique originals and equally enjoyable covers.  Among the most notable of the originals featured in this record is its penultimate entry, ‘Christmas Morning Blues.’  This song is so fun in part because of its musical arrangement.  The musical arrangement is a clear Chicago-based blues sound.  The use of the harmonica and guitar immediately conjures thoughts of the best works of Junior Wells.  At the same time, there is no denying the influence of B.B. King here, especially in the combination of the guitar line, the sound of the drums (thanks to the production) and even Kolassa’s own vocals.  Kolassa’s vocals are so eerily similar to those of King through their tone and delivery style.  This even as the picture of Kolassa on the record’s cover makes him look like a cross between a bluesy Santa and a perfect fit as a member of ZZ Top. ~ MORE >>


BluesNRoots Corner

Normally I don’t like Christmas albums much, but ‘Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album’ will certainly get quite a few spins at the end of the year. An absolute must to get through the Christmas season! MORE>>


Michael Doherty’s Music Log

Sure, the holiday is over and it’s time to take down the decorations. But why not listen to a good holiday blues album while you pull down the tinsel and box up the bulbs? Mick Kolassa has just the thing, Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album, featuring a mix of covers and original material, all with a great Memphis sound. Joining the vocalist and guitarist on this release are Jeff Jensen on guitar, Bill Ruffino on bass, Rick Steff on keyboards, James Cunningham on drums, Eric Hughes on harmonica, and Marc Franklin on trumpet, with Reba Russell and Susan Marshall on backing vocals. The arrangements are by Mick Kolassa and Jeff Jensen. ~ MORE >>

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Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album – Order Now!


October 15, 2021 Release

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This Christmas album was recorded in the 95-degree heat of a Memphis summer, we thought it would be cool. The album is 100% Memphis, every musician, engineer, technician, and guest call Memphis home. Once again Mick Kolassa teamed up with Jeff Jensen to produce a fun-filled and unique album. Combining some originals with Christmas classics the band put a Memphis spin on everything. Trust us, this ain’t your daddy’s jingle bells!

The album opens with Mick’s take on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”. It is delivered in a very Memphis bluesified fashion. Then the band took “Frosty the Snowman” right down Beale Street in a Second Line kind of way. Mick’s original “The Best Christmas Ever” is a fun and funky love song about a very special Christmas present.

The blues classic “Merry Christmas Baby” is followed by a VERY different take on the previously unbluesy “Jingle Bells” – the band brought this song to Memphis in a big way! “Winter Wonderland”, which provides some lightness to the mix, is followed by “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, delivered with an R&B feeling and featuring Rick Steff on multiple key instruments – including a Mellotron.

Mick’s blues rocker “Christmas Morning Blues” is a story of a Christmas that fell victim to a classic blues problem. The album closes with the band’s “Beale Street Christmas Jam”, in which the musicians each take a shot at fitting a classic Christmas song into a 12-bar 1-4-5 shuffle. All in all, we hope this album is as much fun to listen to as it was to produce!

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CD REVIEWS – Wasted Youth


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The reviews are coming in…

 

Blues Matters!

Now here we have a guy who truly puts his whole life into the blues. A former director of The Blues Foundation based in Memphis all profits from all of his album sales go towards the support of two of the Foundations projects. Mick “Mississippi Mick” Kolassa is back with just such a new release. Twelve tracks just oozing blues from every bar. Eleven originals and one cover segueing together three tunes. However, should you go trawling through his catalogue, and you will find that Wasted Youth is not actually his latest. He has also just released mid October a new Christmas album as well. If we put that off to the side what we have here is a very fine collection of tuneage reeking of Memphis and the Blues. Mick has managed to create a thoroughly modern album which, somehow, sits very comfortably alongside the sounds from former times. For example the aching love song about separation, Touching Bass, rolls along with a steady gait redolent of some smoky club from the forties. This is quickly followed up by the trio of songs combined under Darkness To Light. So you get a medley of War’s Slipping Into Darkness, The Youngbloods’ Darkness Darkness and finally Wayfaring Stranger. Set to an almost Reggae rhythm, and with unusual but exquisite violin solos, they all work really well together. Throwing Away These Blues and the title track open the album up. The former implores us to not let life get us down whilst the rougher Wasted Youth shows us that we can really only appreciate youth with the benefit of hindsight.  Edge Of A Razor rounds things off with three simple acoustic guitars with guest Albert Castiglia on slide. A very tasty album indeed! ~ Graeme Scott, Blues Matters!


BluesBlast

Veteran bluesman Mick Kolassa delivers a little joy and releases immeasurable pain as he joins forces once again with producer/guitarist Jeff Jensen and kicks 2020 to the curb with CD, an album that bears witness to a year of sorrow in which he lost his beloved wife, several close friends and relocated from Mississippi to Memphis, too… No matter what the medium, Mick Kolassa delivers heartfelt messages from the heart, and serves up a jewel with Wasted Youth. I loved it, and think you will, too! MORE>>


Bluebird Reviews

In these days and age, it is very gratifying for a writer to review a Blues album that encapsulates the original values of the genre so well like Wasted Youth, the brand new album from American singer/songwriter and guitarist Mick Kolassa.

Written largely during the height of the pandemic in 2020, Wasted Youth is a heartwarming, disarmingly sincere and incredibly well structured record in all its aspects, in a year particularly difficult for the veteran American Blues artist, from a personal level… MORE >>


Reflections In Blue

Cutting to the chase, Wasted Youth is one of those recordings that offers more than simply a background for our dancing and polite conversation.  Like diamonds, which are formed under conditions of extreme heat and pressure, great blues tunes do not come easily.  It has been a rough year and a half, but Mick put these trying times to good use.  This is some of the best songwriting I’ve heard, and Kolassa is surrounded by some of the greatest performers in Memphis.  While the tunes here are very much able to be danced to, it is the furthest thing from a party album.  Like the works of the masters of old, there is a profound honesty here.  I found myself taking council and examining my own heart, mind, and soul.  This is Mick’s finest work to date…a bona fide blues album in every sense of the word.  I’d feel comfortable recommending this one to everyone, from the hardcore traditionalist to lover of the more contemporary styles.  Mick Kolassa and company knock this one out of the park. – Bill Wilson, Reflections In Blue


Downatthecrossroads

Raised in Michigan but resident in Mississippi, “Michissippi Mick” has been playing the blues a long time with a style he likes to call “Free Range Blues”.  He’s not tied down to one style, be it Delta blues, country blues, Chicago blues, or Memphis style soul blues.

His new album, Wasted Youth, sees him teamed up with Jeff Jensen, and playing with a group that includes sixteen top notch musicians, including the fine vocals of Tullie Brae. It’s a terrific set of 14 songs, eleven of them Kolassa originals, some of them inspired by his dreadful 2020, in which he lost his wife and a number of friends. All proceeds from the album are going to The Blues Foundation, where Kolassa is a former board member… MORE >>


Hot Wax Album Review

Any day a new Mick Kolassa CD shows up in my mailbox is a very good day, because I know I‘m in for a deep and tasty dive into the blues.  I picked this up on my way to work this morning, but had to wait till after supper to give a spin- well, 3 or 4 to be honest.  Wasted Youth is a spirited collection tunes that are bound… MORE >>


La Hora Del Blues

After the acclaimed success of his previous release “If You Can’t Be Good”, singer and guitar player Mick Kolassa publishes now a fourteen song new album, with eleven Kolassa’s own compositions, which have been inspired by all the bad things pandemic has brought and the misfortunes he has suffered in 2020, where he lost his wife and several friends. As he previously did, in the album Kolassa teams again with guitar player Jeff Jensen, which provides strength and energy to all songs, but he has also counted with the collaboration of different amazing musicians, all gifted with fine subtle skills, like Bill Rufino, Rick Steff, James Cunningham, Brandon Santini, Brad Webb, Kirk Smothers, Albert Castiglia or Victor Wainwright among others. As he always does, all the album sales benefits will go to the programs ‘Hart Fund’ and ‘Generation Blues’, promoted by the Blues Foundation in Memphis. Once again Mick Kolassa shows all his special powerful sensitivity and musical knowledge, as well as an undeniable good taste when he steadily walks along the most genuine and vigorous blues landscapes. GREAT. ~ La Hora Del Blues

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Edge of a Razor – Video Premier

Here it is – world premier of the new video of Edge of a Razor, a song I wrote for and about the hard working women who make this world a better place. Albert Castiglia played slide on this, and wonderfully. Thank you ladies! Feel free to share! ~ Mick

 

 

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Wasted Youth – Get it NOW!

Mick Kolassa has once again teamed up with Jeff Jensen to put together a package of fun. Following the critically acclaimed If You Can’t Be Good, Wasted Youth, is a collection of a dozen tracks with 14 songs, 11 of which are Kolassa originals. The Covid year of 2020, during which Mick lost his wife and several friends, inspired many of the songs on this album.

 


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Stories Behind the Songs

Throwing Away These Blues (Kolassa) 2:27
2020 was a tough year, and I found it easy to feel sorry for myself (as another song will attest), but I’ve never been down for long, I seem to be almost immune to depression, and I hated the feeling. So regardless of how hard than damned year hit me, I knew I needed to move past it, and this song talks about that, it celebrates leaving bad times behind

Wasted Youth (Kolassa) 4:50
I started working on this song a couple years ago, when I was feeling less healthy and more worn down by my years. It is a song about growing older and understanding that our days are limited and realizing that I didn’t realize that years ago. I figured that a lot of blues fans would identify with the song! This track has 3 electric guitars on it, with Jeff Jensen and me paying what could be called a “call and response” as he plays a response to my initial line. Brad Webb adds his slide guitar superpowers to this song and Eric Hughes added his harp to the tune, making this 10 straight albums on which Eric joins me in making music!

It Hurts to Let You Go (Kolassa) 5:58
I wrote this song as a way to prepare myself for the loss of my wife, which I knew was coming soon – but I wanted it to be more general than just my story, I wanted to write it for anyone who is dealing with the loss of someone close to them

I’m Missing You (Kolassa) 3:47
I have an imaginary muse and I write love songs to her often – it seems to be the safe way to go! I wanted it to be funky and celebratory, telling of missing my love while being content to have her. Missing her but secure in her love. Musically I wanted the bass to dominate this song – and I think Bill Ruffino pulled that off!

Easy Doesn’t Live Here (Kolassa) 3:22
Relationships are tough, and to make them work you need to understand that, to accept that love isn’t all cake and cookies. But if love is real, and strong, adversity doesn’t really mean anything! I wanted this song to sound and feel different from others on the album, so I leaned in a Latin direction when composing it and asked the wonderful young guitarist David Julia to add some of his magic to it.

I Can’t Get Enough (Kolassa) 2:57
Another love song to my imaginary muse, meant to be slightly humorous but lots of fun. I asked my friend Anthony Paule to play guitar on this, and he captured the spirit of it beautifully. Marc Franklin (trumpet) and Kirk Smothers (sax) kept that fun spirit going as they rounded the song out.

Feeling Sorry for Myself (Kolassa) 3:04
Despite my regular upbeat attitude and apparent immunity to actual depression, I do get down sometimes and, as 2020 drag on and ever downward, I just let the “feeling down” take me down a bit further. Because I can’t let a good emotion just disappear, I memorialized my own slip into minor depression in this song. I wanted it to feel a bit like a Ray Charles song – Ray would smile through a sad song, and I love that. My good friend Victor Wainwright helped it to sound a little more like Ray!

Touching Bass (Kolassa) 3:23
This song came about as I was simply messing around with a bass guitar, walking around a 12 bar song. Playing with the fact that Bass and Base are homonyms I just started playing with the idea of a bass driven song about touching base

Darkness To Light (War, Young, Traditional) 5:27
I have always wanted to cover Slipping Into Darkness. War’s album The World is a Ghetto is one of my all-time favorites. And this song always just grabs me. I started playing around with it and I just naturally started leaning it toward a reggae feel – which isn’t that far from the original. While playing it the Youngbloods song Darkness Darkness came to mind – it had the same feel and “tone (both songs seem to be about addiction and desperation) and even have similar musical underpinnings (very similar chords) to transition from one to the other. While messing around with variations it struck me that the old spiritual, Wayfaring Stranger, was also similar musically and could be fit into the mix. The combination turns out to tell a story of addiction, despair, death and eventual salvation and reunion with love. That’s why the medley is called Darkness to Light

My Mind Doesn’t Wander (Kolassa) 3:11
Another love song, courtesy of my imaginary muse. I wanted to take this song a step or two away from a traditional blues or rock form (1-4-5 in music speak) but not too far. I asked my longtime friend Brandon Santini to join us on this song because I knew his harp tone could take the song somewhere special – and it sure did.

Pieces of My Past (Kolassa) 6:17
This song is my attempt to say goodbye and good riddance to 2020. When my wife passed away I decided to move away from Mississippi, but not too far – I moved to Memphis! I moved into a much smaller house, which necessitated getting rid of a lot of things, some of which I (we) had carted around for decades. As I downsized – significantly – it occurred to me that I was literally throwing away pieces of my past, which inspired the song.

Edge of a Razor (Kolassa) 3:06
I began writing this song about a dear friend who works harder than anyone else I know, a single mother who stretches herself thin to hold things together and make sure her children secure. Watching her let some things that would be nice for her pass by as she focused on the kids, it struck me that it’s a tenuous situation, living on the edge of a razor. As the song developed and I wrote the verses I came to understand that I was writing this song about hundreds of brave and strong women who have fought through similar challenges. Musically this song consists of my voice and three acoustic guitars, each played in a different manner. I finger-picked the chords of the song and played the bassline with my thumb (channeling my inner folkie) and Jeff Jensen strummed the same chords too give them depth. I asked my friend Albert Castiglia to add a guitar to it, and he provided the perfect complement by playing an acoustic slide guitar. I believe that we each felt the emotion of the song, as each has daughters of our own and understand the reality of the song. Honestly, this song fills me with pride.

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