With Taylor Made Blues, Mick Kolassa is once again gracing us with a great album, this one centering on the things that matter to him and displaying a variety of blues-based styles, funk, rock, and jazz. It is more personal than his last, fantastic CD, Ghosts of the Riverside Hotel, and even more of a reflection of the man himself.
Like the previous LP, it is produced by Jeff Jensen, and Jensen and Bill Ruffino form the heart of the band on guitar and bass, respectively. These three are an ongoing musical collaboration, with Jensen producing Kolassa and Kolassa producing Jensen. The love and respect they have for each other shows through in the music.
As with the last album, all proceeds from the CD will be donated to The Blues Foundation to benefit The Hart Foundation and Generation Blues.
Among the musicians who join Kolassa, Jensen, and Ruffino on the project are James Cunningham, Chris Stephenson, Eric Hughes, Victor Wainwright, and Reba Russell. In addition, special guests joined in, including “Long Tall” Deb Landoit, Colin John, the popular Mr. Sipp (Castro Coleman), and the amazing Tullie Brae.
Things start out with the down-home blues of “Baby-Faced Louise,” which Kolassa says started out as a song about a fishing fly and ended up as a love song to his wife, Molli. It’s a fun way to start out and is followed by a different sort of love song, this one to the place where he lives, Taylor, Mississippi: “Taylor Made Blues.” It’s a laid-back number for a laid-back town.
Next is only one of three songs not penned by Kolassa, an updated, slowed-down and bluesier version of Graham Nash’s “Prison Song.” At first this arrangement may seem odd, but after a couple of listens it sounds right. It’s a serious song, but it is followed by the humorous “I’m Getting Late,” which is a New Orleans-flavored number enhanced by this writer’s favorite piano player, Victor Wainwright, and which makes even getting older a laughing matter.
“In the Day” is a funky protest song. Kolassa has no trouble sharing his views and putting nostalgia in its place, and he does it with funky style, joined by Brae, Landoit, and Russell on background vocals. Then it is back to Kolassa celebrating his life and the blues community on “With Friends Like Mine.” He’s a satisfied man and this song will make you feel happy if you have your own friends you can count on
“Lungs,” by Townes Van Zandt, is a tragic song made even more serious in this slowed-down version. It features amazing piano playing by Stephenson and fantastic lap steel and baby sitar by John, but for me it is a bit too heavy to be a favorite. So it’s a relief when the next one is a positive, fun one. Kolassa took the old poem “Keep A-Goin'” and put it to music – Russell and Landoit did the background vocals.
Things turn serious again for “Left Too Soon,” a song written for Kolassa’s brother-in-law and best friend for over 40 years. It’s sad and heartfelt but it ends up rocking, because as Kolassa explains, “Jeff suggested that the song should close in a very rocking way, because that’s what Ted liked best.”
The last of the three songs not written by Kolassa is “I Can’t Get Next to You” (Temptations/Whitfield/Strong), slowed-down and “bluesified” for this album. Mr. Sipp provides wonderful guitar and Landoit and Russell add superb background singing to make this one pretty spectacular.
“My Hurry Done Broke” is another song this writer especially appreciates for letting us laugh sympathetically at the aging situation. As one who also has a defective “hurry,” this is another favorite from the album.
The ending song, “Raul Was My Friend,” is also a tribute to a friend who died too soon. This one was a Brazilian fishing guide, and Kolassa has written a sad, warm and heartfelt tribute.
With its emotional extremes, seriousness, sadness and laughter following one another, this record is a realistic representation of life, superbly performed by Kolassa and the musicians and sensitively produced by Jensen. This is your chance to help out The Blues Foundation and acquire some amazing music for yourself at the same time. Kolassa is a man worth knowing and a musician worth hearing.