CD REVIEWS – I’m Just Getting Started!

IL Blues

TRANSLATION:  Time passes but Mick Kolassa’s recording hyperactivity doesn’t seem to mark time, quite the contrary! 2022, now surrendered to its waning phase, saw the release of three albums in the name of this indomitable knight of the Blues Foundation. Always faithful over the centuries to the dictates of that formula coined by himself and called “free range blues”, with which he wants to imply a frankly hybrid and bastardized approach to the genre as well as stimulating in his attempt to keep the ears alert and the mind of the listeners, even with “I’m Just Getting Started” follows these same guidelines with results that sound well focused. To understand the concept of the so-called “free range blues”, it is enough to listen to the homonymous opening piece which well exemplifies its main sound coordinates. Coordinates that, in the words of Bobby Rush, “…cross over but never cross out!”. Because in the artistic vein of Kolassa, as well as witty, shrewd author also true singer, waves of blues flow, of course, but also of soul, funk and anything else that has arisen from the American popular sound universe also, at times, soiled by slight jazz guitar smudges. Pulp fruit germinated again from the collaboration of Kolassa with producer and guitarist Jeff Jensen, to form the rich support band for the recordings the two drew from the bottom well of the best Memphisian session players including keyboardist Rick Steff and the new Memphis Horns (Mark Franklin and Kirk Smothers) as well as harmonica player Brandon Santini. In a program that mainly includes unreleased songs, there are some valuable covers such as “Real Man” by John Hiatt and the famous “Leaving Trunk”. Coming from the pen of Sleepy John Estes but always associated with Taj Mahal, the latter benefits from a pleasant and surprising funk approach. Supported by a delicately burnished timbre, Kolassa, in telling his stories in music, proves once again that he is one of the best lyricists of the genre. ~ John Rubino, IL BLUES

Making A Scene!

Eleven albums in, bluesman Mick Kolassa is proclaiming a reset of sorts with his latest, I’m Just Getting Started. Having just moved to Memphis from Mississippi and having overcome his wife’s passing due to cancer and his own battle with COVID-19 in recent years, no one can fault Kolassa for announcing a fresh start. Kolassa has branded his style as Free Range Blues, a means of including sub genres of the blues and even faint touches of soul and jazz. Collaborating again with producer and guitarist Jeff Jensen, they’ve tapped into the well of Memphis session greats including keyboardist Rick Steff, and the modern-day two-piece Memphis Horns team of Marc Franklin and Kirk Smothers, among thirteen musicians or vocalists listed in the credits. Kolassa knows the blues idioms inside out, whether acoustic or electric and beyond being prolific and versatile, he consistently proves to be one of the genre’s better lyricists and writers, holding sway with his gravelly, burnished voice.

He begins with rollicking title track, stating “I’ve got tricks no one’s seen yet” typifying one of the blues most popular strains, tongue-in-cheek braggadocio with Brandon Santini (curiously not listed in the credits) pushing the tune along on his blues harp. The slow soul blues of “What Can I Do?” features the tasteful lead guitar of Dexter Allen, who otherwise plays bass on ten of the dozen tracks.  The uplifting “Bigger Dreams” glides along with stellar piano from Steff and a sprinkling of blues harp. “Alibis and Lies” touches on jazz with a late-night vibe, a song about modern day tourist trap called Beale Street. It’s a cover of a tune originally done by Chainsaw DuPont and includes terrific guitar from Jensen.

Speaking of covers, Kolassa and Santini then dig into Sleepy John Estes’ “Leaving Trunk,” a tune forever associated with Taj Mahal. It’s the first song that Kolassa and Santini ever played together dating back many years. To their credit, they author a funky arrangement rather than mimicking Taj’s approach. Kolassa and crew tackle two other covers, John Hiatt’s “Real Man,” delivering with a mix of straight-ahead vocals and talking blues macho style, punctuated yet again with blues harp and Steff’s B3. The other is from the one hit wonder, Pacific Gas and Electric’s, rock hit, “Are You Ready?” Kolassa and crew slow the tempo, giving it a slinky roots-gospel feel, with strong backing vocal form Donna Jones Nickelson and well-articulated guitar lines from Jensen. It’s a standout track.

“That Kind of Man” and “Take Me Away” are both smoldering love songs with Jensen in the former using the wah effect tastefully, which is rare for any guitarist. In the latter, Kolassa hits deep soul territory, underpinned by Steff’s B3. “Trying Not to Let the Darkness” is a trademark minor key Kolassa slow blues, autobiographical perhaps given the issues he’s grappled with in recent years. As if to move away from the gloom, he ends with a couple of humorous tunes, “Hardhearted Woman” (“she’s got no soul”…”she could crush any man”) and one that might have been best left out, “How Much Can I Pay You?” about stripper who goes too far, but in a twist it’s the male who wants to pay her for putting her clothes back on. Smothers’ burning tenor sax solo redeems the tune somewhat.

That last one aside, this is a varied program of solid songs and instrumental performances that continue to show why Kolassa is one of our most vital contemporary bluesmen. If he is really just rebooting, the future is even more promising. ~ Jim Hynes, Making A Scene!

Blues Bytes

The incredibly prolific Mick Kolassa has released 11 albums since 2014, the latest titled I’m Just Getting Started! (Endless Blues Records), and it’s as high quality a set of his “Free Range Blues” as the previous ten. For this latest effort, Kolassa gives listeners a dozen tracks, eight originals and four tasty covers previously associated with Taj Mahal and Sleepy John Estes, Chainsaw Dupont, John Hiatt, and Pacific Gas & Electric.

Kolassa is backed by a fine set of musicians that include Jef Jensen (guitar/producer), Dexter Allen (bass/guitar), Rick Steff (keys), John Blackmon (drums), Brandon Santini (harmonica), Bill Ruffino (bass), Andrew McNeill (drums), Marc Franklin (trumpet), Chris Stephenson (keys), Kirk Smothers (sax), J. Remy Williams (keys/backing vocals), and Julia Melah and Donna Jones Nickleson (backing vocals).

The title track opens the disc, and Kolassa delivers it with such verve that you figure he might have 11 more albums in him down the road. The soul blues ballad, “What Can I Do?,” features Allen on guitar, the encouraging “Bigger Dreams” implores listeners not to give up on theirs, and “Alibis and Lies,” previously done by Chainsaw Dupont has a jazzy feel, while the deliciously funky take on “Leaving Trunk” is a nice showcase for Kolassa and Santini.

“That Kind Of Man” is a smooth ballad with a ’70s R&B/soul vibe, thanks to Jensen guitar and Steff’s work on the keyboard. “Are You Ready?” was originally recorded by rock band Pacific Gas and Electric in 1970. Kolassa’s version is taken at a more leisurely, bluesy pace than the original, but retains the gospel feel of its predecessor. “Take Me Away” and “Trying Not To Let The Darkness In” are both slow burners, the former leaning toward soul and the latter toward the blues side of the spectrum.

The album wraps up with a funky blues cover of John Hiatt’s “Real Man,” along with two more originals — the swampy blues track “Hard Hearted Woman,” which warns of a female to be avoided, and the humorous “How Much Can I Pay You?,” about a lady who’s having too much fun for all the other patrons at the club.

As always on Mick Kolassa’s albums, 100% of the net proceeds from I’m Just Getting Started! go to the Blues Foundation, where it is split between the Hart Fund and Generation Blues. I encourage you to check out this excellent effort and listen to some good music while helping to support a worthy cause. ~ Graham Clarke, Blues Bytes

Midwest Record

11 albums in and this white geezer with the blues is delivering testament with the title track. Moving beyond the normal scope of white boy blues, he veers into white boy soul and jazz as well, delivering it all with his usual aplomb and gusto. With a sound and feel like everyone snuck into Muscle Shoals after hours and was drinking hooch out of jelly jars when no one was looking, this might be the rocket fuel that ignites a whole new sound and fury. Solid. ~ Midwest Record

Hot Wax Album Review by the Rock Doctor

More ‘free range blues’ from Mick Kolassa on this, his 11th album.  I’m Just Getting Started is more of the down home blues Mick is noted for as he slips into more soulful stuff and a certain jazz feel at times that reminds me of Gaye Delorme.  Cool stuff, this.

As with previous records, I’m Just Getting Started is a mix of lively originals and spirited covers.  The sweet spot for me is their noir jazz take on Alibies & Lies, originally done by Chainsaw Dupont.  Mick is joined on the Taj Mahal classic Leaving Truck by Brandon Santini, and they get together again on John Hiatt’s Real Man.  Songs like these sit quite comfortably with tracks like Trying Not To Let the Darkness In, a minor key slow blues that Kolassa’s fans will appreciate; I have 8 of his albums so yeah, I’m definitely one of those fans.

I’m Just Getting Started was produced once again by Jeff Jensen, who helped Mick gather together a number of seasoned musicians to help bring these dozen songs to life.  Too many involved to mention here, but I was well pleased to note that bassist Dexter Allen, a groove master par excellence, plays on all but 2 of the numbers.  You can hear and feel the miles Kolassa has traveled through this life, which gives his blues the right weight… he’s not singing these songs for any commercial consideration beyond making a living.  No, I really believe Mick sings stuff like Are You Ready and Trying Not To Let the Darkness In because he feels it deeply, which makes this album a very soulful experience.

As I’ve noted with previous Kolassa albums I’ve reviewed, 100% of the net proceeds from I’m Just Getting Started will go to The Blues Foundation.  There, it will be split between The Hart Fund and Generation Blues.  If you’re a blues believer, I suggest visiting to find out what you can do to help support this music.  In the meantime, put Mick Kolassa’s new disc on and let the mighty Mississippi carry you away… you’ll want to dance, think, and maybe even have a good cry or two.  That, fellow babies, is the magic of the blues. ~ John Kereiff, Rock Doctor

The Rocking Magpie

The Blues Comes in Many Shades; and Here We Add a Couple of New Shades To the Palette

This is Mick Kolassa’s 11th album which shows he already knows his way around The Blues, and even a cursory listen here shows what a talented singer and songwriter he is.
For some inexplicable reason I’ve always liked a title track to open an album; and that’s what we get here; the autobiographical and slightly tongue in cheek I’M JUST GETTING STARTED, where Mick takes us through every stage of his career from his Daddy giving him advice at the beginning through to him claiming
I’ve got me lots of tricks
ain’t no one’s seen yet!”
and you’d better believe it, Brothers and Sisters!
The thing I like most about this album; and that’s not to say there are any weaknesses; is the way the songs are front and centre. Sadly; in my experience too many Blues artists let the music especially their guitar playing dominate proceedings; and/or fiddling around with the vocals in one way or another; Mick Kolassa on the other hand regularly switches things around to get the best out of his words and stories.
Track #2 What Can I do? is a delicious slow burner, about a love affair going nowhere and I likes it a whole lot; especially when his voice drops an octave on the last line of the chorus.
I don’t know what to call it; but Kolassa is the opposite of a ‘one trick pony’; as he uses a variety of styles to catch your attention; with the dark and moody Alibis And Lies being a N’Orleans shuffle with a cornet/trumpet slicing through like cut throat razor; and bizarrely (on paper) he follows that with Friday night Dive Bar re-make of Milk Cow Blues called Leavin’ Trunk which is as raw and authentic as the Blues gets in 2022; and you hardly notice the change in pace at all.
I think that may be why I’m liking this album so much; is Kolassa’s ‘authenticity’ throughout; he sounds like he’s either ‘living the songs’ as he sings them, or ‘actually lived the story’ he’s singing about.
Prime examples would be the punchy version of John Hiatt’s Real Man, or That Kind of Man and especially the sizzling Take Me Away which won’t leave a dry eye in the house.
I’ve played the rambunctious final track How Much Can I Pay You a few times now, trying to unravel what it’s ‘really about’ and I think it’s as simple as being a fun song about a ‘rough old girl’ in a bar that the band are playing, and the type of tongue in cheek, saucy song we associate with Muddy Waters or even Louis Jordan; and it’s an absolute doozy.
As I say regularly, there are no obvious singles here; and why should there be with so few outlets for coverage; but that doesn’t stop a couple of songs from standing out like a poppy in a field of golden wheat.
First of my options for Favourite track is the slow and intricate Hard Hearted Woman; which features some superb guitar and organ interplay that sounds like a fog that the lyrics cut through like early morning sunshine.
Then there’s the funky ass, harmonica drenched Bigger Dreams, which just might be my current ‘signature tune’ and Rick Steff’s piano playing is straight out of the Professor Longhair playbook too.
Which brings me to my actual Favourite Song; the stunner Trying Not to Let The Darkness In; which has more or less applied to me a lot in recent years, and will tug at the heartstrings of all so many people who get to hear it; and the construction is quite majestic too.
As we all know, the Blues comes in many shades; and Mick Kolassa has created a couple of new shades of his own here and may even be colouring outside of the lines occasionally; but if that is what it takes to create songs like these; who am I to complain? ~ The Rocking Magpie

La Hora del Blues

With eleven albums published so far, singer and guitar player Mick Kolassa comes back to the front line with the energy, passion and enthusiasm of a beginner but, at the same time, with the professionalism and knowledge he treasures, thanks to the experience in the music field gathered over the years.

Produced by Jeff Jensen, Kolassa shows an undeniable authority in the whole recording, walking with professionalism along blues and other similar styles such as jazz, soul, funky, groove, gospel or rock, in thirty-five minutes of excellent music and twelve songs, eight Mick Kolassa’s own compositions and four versions “Alibis And Lies” coming from Steve Pasek, “Leavin’ Trunk” by Sleepy John Estes, “Are You Ready?” by Charlie Allen & John Hill and “Real Man” by John Hiatt.

Mick Kolassa is backed in the album by Jeff Jensen on guitar, Dexter Allen on bass and guitar, Rick Steff on keyboards and John Blackmon on drums, plus different collaborations by Bill Ruffino, Andrew McNeill, Marc Franklin, Chris Stephenson, Kirk Smothers and the backing vocals of singers J. Remy Williams, Julia Melah and Donna Jones Nickelson. As he usually does, all the album proceeds will go to support The HART Fund and Generation Blues programs, sponsored by the Blues Foundation.