The Minneapolis-born R.J. Mischo – one of the current blues scenes finest harmonica practitioners – with a string of strong releases behind him, has come up trumps with his latest, “Knowledge You Can’t Get In College” – co-produced by Kid Andersen, who also features on guitar, as a member of a crack band. The songs being a mix of hand-picked covers and several Mischo originals.
R.J. Mischo first came to prominence with a band featuring Teddy Morgan, he later recorded for the prestigious German label, CrossCut, and he eventually relocated to San Francisco where he became popular on the live scene – he now resides in Fayetteville, Arkansas – however this album was recorded back in California, at Greaseland in San Jose, in a mere two days!
Apart from the afore-mentioned Kid Andersen, the rest of the band include the great Rusty Zinn sharing the guitar duties, Sid Morris (keyboards), and the rhythm section of Kedar Roy (upright and electric bass) and June Core (drums). Mischo’s superb harmonica work is on top form here, with his chromatic work being of the highest order, as evident on the opening road tale, “Two Hours From Tulsa”, a driving funky blues, also featuring the sparkling guitar work of Kid Andersen.
The 14 tracks here span many different styles, all laced with R.J. Mischo’s dry humour and his passionate voice – from the jazzy chromatic-led shuffle, “Too Cool For School”, where Kedar Roy’s thumping bassline and some June Core’s drums standout, with tasty solo on organ from Sid Morris; the lengthy title cut, with Andersen showing his versatility by playing organ; and the jungle rumba of “Little Joe”, with Lisa Leu on backing vocals.
Rusty Zinn’s guitar growls on the tough “Ain’t Nothin’ New”, with Sid Morris’s tinkling ivories leading the charge on the rockin’ “Ruthie Lee”, from the pen of Roosevelt Sykes. Morris switches to organ on “Please Don’t Leave”, a Big Lucky Carter song, with an eerie echo on the vocal and standout solo from Zinn.
Elsewhere “Teacher’s Pet” is a harmonica showcase for Mischo, a tour-de-force of styles in under three minutes, with plenty of space again given to the band for solos; “Rich Cat” is a marvellous swing number, with typical dry Mischo lyrics. The band get downhome on “Devil’s Love Sin/The Wrong Man”, penned by Walter Vinson and Mojo Buford, with Kid Andersen’s guitar on fire here.
The cover of “Down To The Bottom” comes with ‘vinyl LP simulation’ as the cd cover puts it, advising listeners that there is nothing wrong with their sound system, with Sid Morris’s piano to the fore. This great album closes with a trip down to ‘N’Awlins’ for the late, great Snooks Eaglin’s “Mama Don’t Tear My Clothes”, complete with some really sweet harmonica, and another Zinn solo . . . perfection in just two minutes!
Heartily recommended not to just harmonica fans, but all lovers of honest, straight-forward blues . . . nuthin’ fancy, just great players who seem to be having a ball, and great songs!
King of a Mighty Good Time
Harpist R.J. Mischo has been hovering on the periphery of greater recognition for 15 years. The hard-touring Minnesota native recently relocated to Arkansas after spending a decade in Calilfornia, where King of a Mighty Good Time was recorded with a stellar band whose reverence for tradition is rambunctious rather than rigid. Mischo is joined on these 13 tracks by pianist Bob Welsh (who also plays guitar on several cuts), bassist Kedar Roy, drummers Marty Dodson and Hans Bosse, and guitarists Kid Andersen and Jon Lawton. Produced by Andersen with a vibrant retro feel, the band brims with infectious joie de vivre. Even the title track, which closes the album, manages to be a jaunty ode to Mischo’s eventual death. This song-of-the-year candidate is the ultimate anti-“Going Down Slow,” and it cleverly bookends the album with the similar-sounding set opener, “Cheap Wine.”The only dark tunes are Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “I Can’t Do Without You” and the droning, Delta-drenched “Too Little Love (Too Much Religion),” a lament about the current state of the world featuring Andersen on sitar. For the most part, the disc’s other originals evoke their source points — “R.J.’s Back in Town” (Jimmy Reed), “Good Bad Co.“ (Sonny Boy II), and the instrumental “Joint” (Little Walter) — while lesser-known covers pay homage to Windy City inspirations Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, James Cotton, and Mischo’s mentor, George “Mojo” Buford.Mischos magnificent tone, formidable chops , and affable, self-assured vocals make this disc a must-have for harmonica fans. His best release to date, King of a Mighty Good Time also contains some of Welsh’s finest playing on record.
He Came to Play
From the upper Midwest, harmonica player/vocalist/leader RJ Mischo’s head was turned early on by Muddy Waters live. He later took cues from Mississippi blues men and especially Percy Strother. He now lives in SoCal after a stay in San Fran. This explains the evolution of his blues style. THIS is what better-known blues bands enjoying success should sound like. The cover graphics of He Came To Play (Crosscut Records) are fun; Mischo is a green Martian armed with shades and mic stand invading some unsuspecting earth city from his flying saucer fashioned from a drum cymbal. It is the next in a handful of CDs he has released on various labels.
Leader RJ states in his liner notes: “This album was recorded live in the studio, with all the musicians, amps and drums in one room gathered around an upright piano. Vocals were live in the room thru a ’60s Sure Vocal Master PA. Recording was analog on two-inch tape. You may notice several pops and clicks on a few tracks, I was snapping my finger too close to the mic.” Results are super. The sound is warm and inviting. The only added elements are sound effects for set-up of certain tunes, including one swear word.
Of the musicians, the bassist really drives this music, thumping like an old stand-up. It’s listed as electric and that is hard to believe. Tight, but a loose party. You may be in Texas or somewhere in SoCal. Piano is tasty and seldom solos, a little busy in spots. After all we don’t want shades of Herbie Hancock in this crowd, just Otis Spann. Guitar solos are snappy and in excellent taste. The leader has a good voice and his harp is rich and felicitous (RJ is sponsored by Hohner harmonicas). The one horn player plays several, and the baritone sax is so rich you hear a section. And I’m happy about the inclusion of drummer June Core, a naturally gifted technician who was a spark plug during his moment with Little Charlie and the Nightcats.
Flow is important and this album starts in perfect tempo. It begs repeated playing. There are Little Walter, two-beat, and then surf touches. Titles are a mixture of originals and covers, like “20% Alcohol,” “Mojo Lounge,” “Hang Up And Drive,” and “Hippie’s Playground.” From midpoint in the album the fare peters out a little, rhythms and ideas repeat slightly, but they still stand strong individually. Then the concluding couple tracks work well, a novelty capped by a strong, then fading, instrumental. Blues grade of A-.