The Mystix, a blues/roots outfit from Boston (USA), have been giving this new album of theirs a big push but the sales pitch about them honouring American musical traditions didn’t do much to stir my enthusiasm. To be honest; I thought it might be one of those efforts suffocated by its own authenticity. Well, how wrong can you be? An inspired selection of old material is matched by some great new material from lead vocalist Jo Lily on an album that deserves to sit alongside landmark recordings such as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken?. That album focused on a particular area of roots music, but The Mystix have plundered acts as diverse as Jimmie Rodgers, Pop Staples and bluesman Floyd Dixon for their material, re-interpreting freely as they go.
The core band is Jo Lily (guitars/vocals), Bobby Keyes (guitars), Marty Ballou (bass), Tom West (keyboards) and Marty Richards on drums; collectively, they purr like a Rolls Royce on its holidays. They tackle everything with impeccable style: Ernest Tubb’s Mean Woman Blues, for instance, gets a really beautiful country blues treatment that has such a soulful guitar part it’s hard to believe this song came from a Texan in a cowboy hat. Though he sings this in a wonderfully smoke roughened blues voice, Jo Lily occasionally puts in a phrase that sounds closer to Doc Watson’s avuncular mountain growl, and that epitomises the special quality of this man’s voice. He’s right on the money when he’s sounding like the oldest of old blues guys on numbers like Just To Be With You or Mighty Love but that flirtation with country style is entirely deliberate and he reaches for an even deeper register on his own wonderful gospel country song, Mighty Tone, and comes off sounding like Johnny Cash’s first cousin.
There’s a lot of feel to this band’s playing but is it possible to be too good? I mean, song after song features absolutely gorgeous playing but there’s a bit of me looking for the grit, and that’s where Jo Lily’s voice comes in. He goes where the muse takes him and that provides the unpredictability that keeps our attention. A host of guest musicians help The Mystix out on this ramble through the U.S. back catalogue, and every one of them matches the band for great playing. The star appearance, though, has to be that of Jerry Portnoy, harmonica player with Muddy Waters amongst others. He grabs a hold of the songs he plays on, bringing the real burning fire of the blues to the arrangement. It’s a testament to the quality of the rest of the band that they are not overshadowed in any way, and even as your attention is grabbed by that intense blues harp sound you can’t help but notice how wonderful the piano or guitar sounds.
In a true case of “all killer, no filler”, every track here is something special; the band describe this as “music of celebration, innovation and revelation”, and they’re right on all counts. Every aspect of this production has stellar quality, an exceptionally fine capsule of the last century of American music
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