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John Mooney
 Against the Wall, House of Blues CD HOBme 7001087006-2, 1996 (38:36)

Rock-solid New Orleans funk blues. Masterful!

You know how sometimes you can just tell right off? The very first notes on this album, a cymbal crash followed by slamming tom toms from Recile's drum kit, then a slide on Mooney's guitar with Andrews' B3 sneaking up behind, say you're in for a good time. When Mooney's rich, slightly quavering voice then starts singing about heading down by the levee, "on sacred ground," you just know he means it. This song is powered one hundred percent by that unique sweet New Orleans steam. And that's just the beginning.

Mooney is reputed to be a dynamite live performer, and has frequently opened for Bonnie Raitt. As a teen, he kicked around with Son House (the slide blues master, contemporary of Robert Johnson, teacher of Muddy Waters) during Son's last years around Rochester, New York. He then wandered around before settling in New Orleans, which he says is "the first city that felt like home." Well, I believe it. Imagine the funkiness of the Meters integrated with some honest country blues, and you have an idea how fine this album is. Mooney sings in a rough baritone and plays stunning acoustic steel guitar, electric slide, or his own self-made "swamp box," which sounds as down-home as the name suggests. The other musicians, most of them from Mooney's working band, are just as fine, with drummer George C. Recile a regular second line in his own right. The album is loose-limbed, energetic, swampy, and as smoky and sweet as good barbecue.

The mostly original songs are varied and interesting. And instantly memorable. After listening to the album just a couple of times, I was sure I had heard "Sacred Ground" before, and went searching for it in my collection. No, it just had stuck in my mind so hard that it was already an old friend. "3 Sides (2 Every Story)" reminds us that "there's three sides to every story: yours, mine and the whole damn truth." "Sweat'n Bones" tells what can happen on one of those hot New Orleans summer nights, when "all that's left is sweat 'n' bones." "The Bitter Pill" is the one non-original, a Michelle Shocked song about a cure that's worse than the disease. The album ends (all too soon) with "Somebody Been Missing Somebody (2 Long)," about losing your lover because you've been on the road too long.

The great sound is one major reason for the album's success. The arrangements are simple, mostly Mooney backed by bass and drums, with congas or a B3 or piano added on half of the tracks. Each instrument is cleanly recorded and the balance is perfect. The drums in particular have a rare sense of authenticity, with the whap of the sticks on the skins very well captured. The album was mastered with Pacific Microsonics' HDCD system for converting 20-bit digital studio recordings down to the CD's 16 bits. For those who don't know, HDCD purportedly improves the sound of CDs played on standard equipment, and allows even greater improvement when played on an HDCD-equipped CD player. Whatever. On my non-HDCD system it sounds terrific.

Frankly, seeing the House of Blues imprimatur, I expected something more pop than this spicy gumbo. But John Mooney is a stone master. Before this album, I had heard of him but never actually heard him. I am now a hardcore fan. -  Glenn Brooks

production notes & song titles

John Mooney, vocals, guitar; Tony Hall or Jeff Sarli or David Lee Watson, bass; George C. Recile or Carlo Nuccio, drums & percussion; Michael Ward, congas; Bob Andrews, Hammond B3 organ, piano.

Produced (and recorded, it seems) by Rob Franconi; mastered by Denny Purcell.

Sacred Ground | Doggone Thing | Sweat'n Bones | Broken Mold | Late on in the Evening | 3 Sides (2 Every Story) | The Bitter Pill | U Tol'Me | One Step Forward | Somebody Been Missing Somebody (2 Long)

of related interest

John Mooney,  Testimony, Domino CD DOMCD001, 1992 (50:14)

After hearing Against the Wall, I went out and found another good 'un, also produced by Rob Franconi. The great New Orleans bassist George Porter, Jr. and drummer John Vidacovich are Mooney's backups here, with guests including Dr. John, Ivan Neville and the Subdude's Tommy Malone.

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.