Mudcat Blues Band
I Wanna Play In Your Backyard – ear X-tacy Records

By Michael Campbell

With their second release, I Wanna Play In Your Big Backyard, the Mudcat Blues Band (Jim Rosen/vocals, harp, Rob Pickett/vocals, guitar, Brendan Lewis/bass, Gene Wickliffe/drums) focuses on the essence of blues music, rather than a style or dialect. Their 1994 debut built a confident extension of the performance aspect of a seasoned bar band (when they were known as Da Mudcats), augmenting the basic instruments with keyboards and horns. As rewarding as that recording was, this one transcends it, with fewer ornaments.

The most obvious difference is in the material, some of which reflects the cards that life has dealt this band since last time out. Part of the Mudcats appeal is their authentic "been there" delivery, typified on the last album by the sheepish "Shoulda Been Ashamed"; that authenticity takes on chilling implications with the matter of fact "Terminal Man," an upside irony about premature departure. Rusty Ends' "Blue Shadows," with its New Orleans flavored syncopation and tasty acoustic guitar solo, makes lonely introspection seem like sophisticated fun. Honorary Mudcat Tim Krekel's "Highland Blues" offers the denizens of Derby City an insider's sly send-up of the Crescent lifestyle.

The other transcendent quality of this recording is the minimalist approach. This time out, the basic instrumental configuration dominates, using different guest players, notably Krekel and John Burgard, to vary the sound. If you thought that the rhythm section on the last recording was solid and together, you'll find that it's tighter than a gnat's rear stretched over a barrel this time, sparked by the rock-steady Gene Wickliffe, the reincarnation of the MG's late Al Jackson.

The jazz tinged "King Cootie Waltz," an instrumental collaboration between Krekel and Rosen, will lay you back in a late summer afternoon hammock with its languid guitar supporting a plaintive, lyrical harp styling that evokes Toots Theilmans. The opening cut's treatment of Robert Johnson's "Kind Hearted Woman" says all it needs to say with acoustic guitar, harp and vocal; a reminder that less can be enough, if not more.

This self produced recording offers a map through those backstreets just off the main roads we travel daily: mortality, love, laughs, cynicism and hope. It's all right there in this big back yard.