John Fusco: Borderlands Review

John Fusco is a storytelling genius who like Billy Bob Thornton isn’t limited to just one genre. With a successful career in motion pictures writing scripts for films along with producing them, beginning with 1986’s “Crossroads”, Fusco began songwriting. He was encouraged by Cody Dickinson of the “North Mississippi Allstars” to create songs that tell stories.

Fusco dropped out of high school and traveled to the Southern states to connect with the blues scene. When he wrote the script for “Crossroads” it was semi-autobiographical. Then over the course of four decades and nearly two dozen film releases, he continued to develop stories that in many cases took place in the American Southwest. From “Young Guns” and “Thunderheart” to “Hidalgo and “The Highwaymen”.

Borderlands is his third album after John Fusco and the X-Road Riders in 2019 and John the Revelator, a double album in 2021. The album combines ancient gospel overtones and blues themes to create what Fusco calls “a kind of peyote passion play.” The album was born in the isolation of the pandemic as a means to express through music “on a visceral level” the state of the nation today. Fusco enlisted guitarist producer George Walker Petit to help produce and arrange the music. The album was recorded at Petit’s private mountain studio in Vermont.

Musicians playing on the album include Fusco on Hammond B3, piano, and lead vocals along with Petit on guitars including bass. Drums were covered by the Trey Anastasio Band’s drummer, Russ Lawton, along with Stuart Paton on conga and bongos. Patrick Ross played Acadian fiddle and mandolin with Jane Boxall’s marimbas and Matthew Backer’s slide guitar and dobro. Trumpets were by Connor Young, Michael Hartigan played accordion and Ashley Betton sang background vocals on the final song “Ain’t No Grave.”

Borderlands consist of ten cuts that explore the distinctive character of that region of the American Southwest beginning with “Coyote Man.” The lyrics sing “Sixty people dead, Coyote well fed” as Petit wails on his guitar. The song is about mercenary Coyotes who take the money and then abandon those who hire them. “Dance of the Seven Veils” begins with a Spanish guitar before Fusco’s gravely voice kicks in singing “bring me the head of Rio Honda John” a preacher that resembles John the Baptist wading in the Rio Grande. “Bad Luck Rides Shotgun” opens with Petit playing dreamy guitar to set the mood accompanied by Fusco’s Hammond B3. Petit’s stinging guitar punctuates Fusco singing “the 3:10 to Yuma ain’t got nothin’ on my ride.” “Horseback Jesus” was “the first song written for the album” and Petit calls it “the Linchpin” of the album. It’s a classic story about a present day Messiah that Cactus Jack kills and was buried on “Calvary Hill.” “Cowboy Picture” is about driving down Highway 16 as the sun both rises and sets and stopping to take a photograph of it to freeze a moment in time.

“Countrified Noise” is a two stepper for a Country Girl and Country Boy who take it outside and make it “Countriefied.” “Cyanide Whiskey” is a dreamy sounding guitar blending into Fusco’s storytelling as he spins his tale to guitar notes that resonate with and expand the tale. Singing “Knighted By the Queen” Fusco’s voice is reminiscent of Malcolm John Rebennack. “Run, Rez Dog, Run” is about a crooked Shaman who exploits indigenous heritage and suffers the consequences. The final song on the album is “Ain’t No Grave” with the haunting voice of Ashley Betton giving the echo response to Fusco’s call “ain’t no grave hold this body down.” The song is a variation of Claude Ely’s traditional American gospel song from the Depression era during the 1930s.

The Review: 9/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Coyote Man
– Dance of the Seven Veils
– Horseback Jesus
– Countrified Noise
– Ain’t No Grave

The Big Hit

– Ain’t No Grave

Bob Gersztyn

As a teenager in Detroit, Michigan during the early 1960’s Bob Gersztyn saw many Motown and other R&B artists including Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. After his discharge from the army in 1968 he attended school on the GI Bill and spent the next 3 years attending concerts and festivals weekly. It was the seminal period in Detroit rock & roll that Bob witnessed spawning the MC5 and Stooges along with shows featuring everyone from Jimi Hendrix and the “Doors” to B. B. King and John Lee Hooker. In 1971 He moved to Los Angeles, California to finish his schooling where he became an inner city pastor promoting and hosting gospel concerts. He moved to Oregon in 1982 and began photographing and reviewing concerts for music publications. Since that time he has published myriads of photographs, articles, interviews, and contributed to 2 encyclopedias and published 6 books on everything from music to the military. His rock & roll photo art is available for sale on Etsy @: Bob may be contacted personally at

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