Mick Kolassa has a voice that was made for the blues. On Ghosts of the Riverside Hotel, it is easy to imagine those spirits of the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale laughing and singing along, nodding in approval and appreciation as they listen, just as you will.
The album was produced by Jeff Jensen, and Jensen and his band (Bill Ruffino on bass and Robinson Bridgeforth on drums) provide the backing for Kolassa, along with Chris Stephenson on Hammond B3. A plethora of guests add to this magic mix too, with Victor Wainwright, Brandon Santini, Watermelon Slim, and Annika Chambers among them.
Prepare to be blown away from the very first song. This is Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man,” a song that has been recorded many times but never like this. Jensen’s tremolo guitar gives it a rock edge, while Kolassa infuses it with blues. This tune demands repeated listening.
Kolassa then channels Muddy Waters for “Grapes and Greens,” a tribute to Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer.” Brothers Eric Hughes on harmonica and Walter Hughes on slide guitar add just the right vintage sound. Then comes “One Meatball,” and Kolassa perfectly captures both the humor and the pathos of this tune about a man who can’t even afford bread with his one meatball. Reba Russell adds a flawless backing vocal, and the amazing Wainwright adds layers of feeling with his piano.
Kolassa’s own “I Always Meant to Love You” announces how cool it is going to be with Kirk Smother’s first introductory notes from the saxophone. This is west coast swing, and you believe this guy was just too busy jiving to get around to loving that woman until it’s a little too late. It’s followed by “Trouble,” a sly little number about just the sort of woman who might cause a musician to have trouble with a steady relationship.
Smother’s sax once again sets the mood for “Nothin’ Left to Lose (Robin’s Blues),” sucking the listener into the melancholy mood of Kolassa’s song that was inspired by the suicide of Robin Williams. What a beautiful, sad, important song this is.
“If I Ain’t Fishin'” is a laid-back, fun song that Kolassa told this reporter is about a mutual friend of ours, a promoter named Frank (whose name is actually mentioned in the song). Frank thinks promotion is very important. Kolassa explains what he thinks in this gem of a song.
Next is “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” and this is not the rollicking version Three Dog Night gave us. This one is darker and edgier, probably closer to Randy Newman’s version of the song, and that ultimately makes it even more fun.
The next three songs are all Kolassa originals. “Whiskey Woman” is about another sort of classic blues woman and benefits from great backing vocals from Chambers, Tracey K. Masteler, and Logan Layman, who also plays bass on the track. His brother Cole provides the tasty guitar.
And then there’s “Walkin’ (Dead) Blues,” the first blues song I recall to consider the plight of the undead. Listen to it once for the lyrics and again for the amazing musical interplay between Santini and Jensen.
The final song brings it all together in an homage to Clarksdale and The Riverside Hotel, “Delta Town.” Kolassa and crew are joined by Watermelon Slim, a talented and colorful musician who lives in Clarksdale and whose slide guitar and harmonica are riveting here.
For full disclosure, I recently met Mick Kolassa, and he gave me this CD to review. But no matter how I got it, I would have felt the same. This is a flawless recording, and if I could I would give it a lot more than five stars.
[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B01007AJ1W,B00IDK1YPE]