Town and Country

  • 2007
  • Town and Country
  • John-Alex Mason
  • Naked Jaybird Music


John-Alex Mason is a young solo blues guitarist and vocalist who sports impressive credentials: winner in 2001 of the Telluride Acoustic Blues Competition, and in 2004 of the Most Promising Emerging Artist Award at the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival. This is his fifth album. I like it, but its shortcomings prevent me from giving it a wholehearted endorsement.

A concept album, “Town and Country” is divided between 8 songs featuring Mason on National steel guitar in an homage to Delta and Piedmont country styles, and 7 with his electric guitar prowess in the service of more modern hill country mode. Other than a song each by Robert Johnson, Skip James, and Elmore James, the compositions are self-penned. Mason is to be lauded for his respect for early and mid-20th. Century acoustic traditions. Among his many thank-you’s on the album notes are ones directed to Doug MacLeod, another devotee and expander of the tradition, and the dynamic new duo of Moreland and Arbuckle. Not credited but surely worthy of mention also is Kelly Joe Phelps, whose style Mason most recalls.

So why my reservations about the album? The guitar playing, both finger-picking and slide, while admirable, pales in comparison with the skills of Phelps and other contemporaries. The songs are serviceable but not particularly memorable…although “Locomotive” is catchy and propulsive enough that I play it repeatedly. The main problem is Mason’s vocals. The quality of his voice is not particularly compelling — which by itself is no fatal flaw; consider Bob Dylan or even Honeyboy Edwards — but its attempts at power lead to straining and loss of true pitch.

“Town and Country” should be respected as a laudable outing, and certainly not the last we will hear from this still young and maturing artist.