CD Reviews – For the Feral Heart

Living Blues Review by Matt R. Lohr

The liner notes of For the Feral Heart, Mick Kolassa’s 13th solo album, promise the listener “NOTHING BUT LOVE SONGS.” But given the Memphis-based vocalist/guitarist’s status as a relatively recent widower, it is no surprise that this music packs its deepest impact when exploring passions deferred and romance in defeat.

Kolassa’s vocals, confiding and cautionary, coast along TJ Bonta’s throbbing organ and Carl Casperson’s brooding bass on Elegant Angel, and the ’70s-flavored Love Ain’t Supposed to Make You Cry features a spiky Mario Monterosso guitar solo that seems to mock Kolassa’s pain and punishment. Andrew McNeill’s snappy snare drum and Bill Ruffino’s insistent walking bass give Easy to Love a tone interestingly muted, braced for attack. This sardonic sensibility extends into Kolassa’s take on Dave Mason’s Feeling Alright, his brawling guitar and Tullie Brae’s gently threatening backing vocals injecting serious grit into a tune most familiar from its far sprightlier Joe Cocker rendition.

Sweet begins to overtake the bitter as the album eases into its more stylistically diverse back half. A breeze of New Orleans suffuses I Keep Looking, with a spring in the step of Rick Steff’s piano and a jaunty Dr. John looseness to Kolassa’s phrasing. A clever, well-handled romance-tailored-to-fit metaphor and plush acoustic guitar tones make Love in My Size a
genuine heart warmer. There’s even a surprising splash of Caribbean atmosphere, with Hold On threading McNeill’s steel drums through Kolassa’s gentle Jamaican inflections, and Steff’s organ conjuring reggae rhythms on the sun-kissed Forever Sometimes.

The nostalgic violin of Alice Hasen brings a country-folk feel to I Left My Heart in Birmingham; here, and throughout the recording, guitarist and longtime Kolassa collaborator Jeff Jensen’s pristine production enhances Kolassa’s every lovely vocal crack and crinkle. Hasen also lends her skills to the straightforward balladry of Run Away with Me, adding to the wistful comfort imparted by Kolassa’s effortlessly sincere lyrics and delivery.

For the Feral Heart is nicely bookended by a pair of radically contrasting cuts. The bustling wickedness of pure-blues curtainraiser Running to You leads listeners down a twisting, colorful musical road to a closing cover of legendary chestnut As Time Goes By, given a solid, fresh-feeling pace by drummer Tom Leonardo. At the end of the day, Kolassa’s album feels a lot like love itself: seldom predictable, alternately inviting affection and threatening tears . . . but when it’s at its best, ultimately well worth the time. ~ Living Blues, Matt R. Lohr, March 2023

Keys & Chords Review by Philip Verhaege

TRANSLATION: Mick Kolassa is a busy bee. The long player ‘For The Feral Heart’ is already the successor to ‘They Call Me Uncle Mick!, which was released in the summer of 2022. It is his third album that will be released this year and every album has been given a theme. Now these are apparent love songs, but fortunately there is more than just love songs musically. Mick opens with the blues rocker ‘Running To You’, to continue his way with the jazzy ‘Elegant Angel’. The track ‘Feeling Alright’ with Dave Mason’s credits is a wonderful guitar duel between Mick and Jeff Jensen. Guitarist Mario Monterosso comes into the spotlight in ‘Love Ain’t Supposed To Make You Cry’, it’s almost a trademark song for Kolassa. The jazzy and blues song ‘Easy To Love’ is alternated by the acoustic ‘I Keep Looking’. The ballad ‘I Left My Heart In Birmingham’ is about a ‘long-distance’ affair ‘Love In My Size’ and that contrasts with the reggae tinged ‘Forever Sometimes’ and ‘Hold On’, with its distinctive syncopated calypso groove. Alice Hasen’s violin arrangements magically color the roots related ‘Run Away With Me’. Herman Hupfeld’s old standard ‘As Time Goes By’ is the ideal bouncer.

Michigan native Mick Kolassa has lived in Clarksdale, Mississippi for over twenty-five years. He is therefore no stranger to the local blues scene in and around Memphis and was a former member of the Board of Directors of The Blues Foundation. After years of songwriting, Mick Kolassa decided to record his debut album and embraced his friend Jeff Jensen as producer. In 2014 this resulted in the success story ‘Michissippi Mick’. All net proceeds were donated to The Blues Foundation. So Kolassa has its heart in the right place. ~ Keys and Chords

Blues Bytes

Mick Kolassa is a most prolific musician and manages to make all of his albums compelling listening, venturing into different genres at times, but remaining firmly rooted in the blues. His latest release, For The Feral Heart (Endless Blues Records), is his third album from 2022 and consists of nothing but love songs, ten originals from Kolassa and two interesting covers.

Kolassa is backed by the usual cast of characters, including guitarist/producer Jeff Jensen, keyboardist Rick Steff, bassist Bill Ruffino, drummer Tom Leonardo, among others.

The opener, “Running To You,” is a lively blues rocker, followed by “Elegant Angel,” a jazzy blues and one of two tracks featuring Memphis guitarist Mario Monterosso. The album’s first cover is Dave Mason’s “Feeling Alright,” and Kolassa gives this track a somewhat slower pace than usual, bringing out the often-overlooked lyrics (addressing divorce).

“Love Ain’t Supposed To Make You Cry” is a slow burning blues featuring Monterosso on guitar once again, and “Easy To Love” is a smoky urban blues. “I Keep Looking” is a gentle, mostly acoustic tune.

“I Left My Heart In Birmingham” is a rootsy ballad about the complications involved with a long-distance love affair, featuring Alice Hasen on violin, “Love In My Size,” a song about an unlikely love affair, continuing in the same musical vein.

“Forever Sometimes” and “Hold On” touch on reggae and calypso respectively, and “Run Away With Me” is a bittersweet song about our wishes that sometimes go unfulfilled. Hasen’s violin is a wonderful complement to the poignant lyrics.

Kolassa wraps up the album with his take on one of the greatest love songs ever, “As Time Goes By,” from Casablanca.

As with all of Mick Kolassa’s albums, all net proceeds from For The Feral Heart will go the Blues Foundation, split between the HART Fund and Generation Blues. This is a fine album of warmth and compassion that goes down smoothly.The latest in a set of great albums from Mr. Kolassa. ~ Graham Clarke, Blues Bytes

Michael Doherty’s Music Log

Mick Kolassa’s pace is certainly not slowing. In August, he released an excellent album titled They Call Me Uncle Mick! and followed that just a few months later with For The Feral Heart. And this latest release contains mostly original material. As the title and the album’s cover suggest, the tracks on this album deal with love. And is there anything more important? I think the pandemic has made most people take a new look at their priorities, and, big surprise, Love has once again come out on top. Mick Kolassa, in addition to the vocals, plays acoustic guitar and electric guitar on this album. Joining him on this release are Jeff Jensen on guitar, Bill Ruffino on bass, Rick Steff on keyboards, Tom Leonardo on drums, and Andrew McNeil on drums, along with some guests on certain tracks. By the way, all net proceeds from sales of this album go to The Blues Foundation, and specifically to the HART (Handy Artists Relief Trust) Fund and Generation Blues. MORE->