John Fusco and the X-Road Riders (from the album John The Revelator on Checkerboard Lounge Records) (by Brian Rock)
Acclaimed screenwriter John Fusco and his all-star Blues band, The X-Road Riders (pronounced Cross Road Riders) reveal their second album, John the Revelator. A meaty double album clocking in at over an hour and half, John the Revelator is a bountiful bucketful of Blues. Unlike other Hollywood celebrities who have dabbled in the Blues (Bruce Willis, John Goodman and Dennis Quaid come to mind,) Fusco is the first celebrity since John Belushi to get it right. And unlike Belushi, Fusco actually writes his own songs. But the secret to the Blues is not about singing it or even writing it, it’s about feeling it. Listening to John Fusco belt, moan and croon his Blues, it’s hard not to visualize a 70 year-old Mississippi sharecropper pouring out his life story. Clearly, this is not a celebrity vanity project. This album was made with passion, and commitment, and a reverence for the genre. This album is not aboutthe Blues, or inspired by the Blues, it IS the Blues - and it’s authentic.
With help from producer Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, John Fusco and the X-Road Riders span the great Blues highway of the Mississippi River. From the Delta region he captures the Sharecropper Blues of Howlin’ Wolf on “Song for Peter” and “Baker Man.” He brings the gritty realism of Muddy Waters to “Bone Deep” and the ten-minute Blues epic, “Bad Dog.” He revs up the tempo with the Big Joe Turner inspired Juke Joint Blues of “Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing”.
Moving up river, John Fusco pays tribute to the easy flowing Memphis Blues of B.B. King on “Why You Chose Me” and “The Sun Also Rises”. He adds touches of Taj Mahal style Gospel Blues on “Ophelia,” and the tragic love triangle story of “Motel Laws of Arizona”. He evokes the Soul Blues of A.J. Croce on the tender “Apple Jack Brandy” and the stirring “Language of Angels”. The latter is that rare Blues song that focuses on the suffering of others instead of self. Specifically, he addresses the silent torment of depression. Against a backdrop of Celtic fiddle strains, John Fusco sings “some words, they just don’t come easy. But some words must not go unsaid. I never knew you were hurting so bad, had so much going on in your head’. He urges us to pay attention to those around us who are suffering, even if they can’t express it themselves.
With a distinctive voice that’s part Delbert McClinton and part Tom Waits, John Fusco honors the Blues greats of the past without imitating them. His style ranges from gruff to intimate and from tormented to rapturous. Like a great character actor, he matches his tone perfectly to the story of the character in each song, giving an Oscar worthy performance in each. Continuing his Blues journey North, Fusco lays down some smooth, Chicago Blues ala Lucky Peterson on “Fools Fire” and “Baby Let’s Not Borrow”. He adds the frosty, funky guitar licks of Albert Collins on “Good Money After Bad” and “Hottest Part of the Flame”. He ups the funk on the Robert Cray style, layered Blues of “Jacqueline” and “It Takes a Man; the latter of which is a tongue-in-cheek warning to turn the other cheek and walk away or they’ll ‘own your truck, your house, your land’.
John Fusco and the X-Road Riders have truly captured the timeless spirit of the Blues. Any ten songs on this album would have been enough to comprise an excellent modern Blues release. But these twenty songs together make John the Revelator nothing short of a revelation. (by Brian Rock)
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