Blues Bytes

December 2001

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Surprise

Maurice John Vaughn
Dangerous Road
Blue Suit

Maurice John VaughnMaurice John Vaughn is an exceptionally talented man. He plays guitar and saxophone splendidly, is a fine singer and writes poignant songs. That his name is not more widely celebrated is a musical mystery.

This gem marks his first outing as a leader in eight years, since severing his ties with Alligator. He's continued to perform and has done some producing in the interim. The years have been marked by artistic growth such that the disc in hand is far and away his most impressive. With special guest trombonist B.J. Emery on board, there is a dynamic here that defies pigeonholed blues. There is as much hip urbane uptown jazzy blues as downtown grit in the mix. 

Bassist Ilaria Lanteri and drummer Massimo Bertanga are augmented by Fred Brousse (guitar and harp), Jerome Moho (drums), Khouki Pontelero (organ and piano), Detroit Junior (piano), Allen Batts (organ) and Velvet McNair on backing vocals. The tracks, you might have guessed, were cut in Milan, Italy and in Chicago. 

The lead cut is most appropriate, given the international flavor of the disc. "Talking to Each Other with the Music" speaks to meeting people around the world with music as the only common language, and has a talking section on which Maurice asks his fellow musicians to teach him a few words in different languages. It's a straight ahead blues with a twist. 

The title cut is a wonderfully moody piece that is both musically and lyrically satisfying. Over an in-the-pocket bass and trombone interplay and organ and harp overlays, Maurice sings of the roadblocks in life. 

"Two Can Play That Game" is a funky piece that almost would have worked in the Cannonball Adderley book, just for the pure groove. Emery's trombone is especially jaw-droppingly fine here. 

"Mama She Believed In Me" benefits from the superb piano work from Pontelero and a pocket-breaking backstreet backbeat. "The Pigeon," with it's wonderfully haunting harp-keys interplay, much like the title cut, combines social commentary with a groove you can cut with a knife. 

This is adventurous music, blues for the 'hood as much as for the international stage. "Shoo Fly Shoo" is a flat out boogie, and "The Telephone's Ruining My Life" has a bit of telephonic audio verite in the middle section. Vaughn reminds at times of Kenny Neal, but largely comes across as wholly unique with snatches of a panmusical palette that impresses. 

Outside of a cover of Wilson Pickett's "Midnight Hour" that comes off surprisingly strong, the baker's dozen assembled here are from Maurice's pen. 

It was a long wait between musical offerings. It was well worth it.

--- Mark Gallo

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