John Fusco is an atypical blues artist. He’s a Connecticut-born screenwriter, perhaps most famous for writing the 1986 classic film, Crossroads, starring Ralph Macchio and featuring Steve Vai as a guitar-playing devil (the final guitar duel scene is essential viewing). Fusco is also a martial artist. So the fact that his self-titled debut is as good as it is causes mixed feelings. It’s impressive that he’s got such a good voice and such great blues organ chops. But it’s also sort of annoying that Fusco is good at everything. He wrote both Young Guns films. Shouldn’t that be enough accomplishment for one person?
Apparently not, as he teamed up with Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, on a rock-tinged blues album featuring Fusco’s huge voice, which is like a smokier, bluesier John Mellencamp. The album, which touches on a number of blues-rock genres, is ten tracks (with just one cover), united by Fusco’s voice and organ, as well as Dickinson’s amazing guitar/dobro/piano and even drum work. The two sound like they’ve been playing together for decades, not a year or so.
A good example of how well Dickinson and Fusco work together is on “Drink Takes the Man,” which is built on a Fusco organ riff that is more than the standard comping you hear from most blues-rock bands. Rather than relying on holding long chords and letting the guitar and vocals move the melody, Fusco’s organ takes on a lot of that work, which frees up Dickinson’s guitar to pick its spots to rail against the song, but also to double Fusco’s vocal melody. Dickinson’s perfectly simple drum beat keeps the song from sounding too heady or complicated, providing the track with a charming, down-to-earth simplicity. Backup singer Sharisse Norman also contributes background vocals, which give the track, and the entire album, a nice bit of variety. All of the song’s pieces fit together perfectly.
Other tracks work just as well. “Can’t Have Your Cake” is sweet and acoustic, with a melody like Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.” “Boogie on the Bayou” features a sexy electric piano groove over a faint drumbeat. And “Crossroad Blues,” a Robert Johnson cover, sounds like a North Mississippi Allstars track, with the same kind of barely-controlled chaos energy one associates with that band. Luther Dickinson, Cody’s brother, contributes slide guitar, and rapper Al Kapone contributes a rap break. Cream’s iconic cover of the song famously cranked the Johnson original to manic and this version makes Cream’s feel like a sleepy lullaby.
There’s no real flaw in this album, but it could be more cohesive. Each and every song and performance is strong, but it’s like a film of incredible scenes without an overarching plot to unite them. I’m excited to hear a follow-up album where the songwriting and selection is a bit more deliberate. There’s no denying Fusco, Dickinson, and Norman’s collective talent, nor their ability to collaborate so effectively. Their work will evolve and this is an incredibly impressive and fun debut that should be a harbinger of even better albums.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Boogie on the Bayou
– Drink Takes the Man
– Crossroad Blues
The Big Hit
– Crossroad Blues
Review by Steven Ovadia