Memphis is widely considered a musical mecca, one of those places where music seems to seep out of the very ground itself. But there's always been a strong blues seen in sunny California, too, with such seminal influences as T-Bone Walker, Pee Wee Crayton, and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson establishing the swinging template of what's become known as the 'West Coast Sound,' carried forward into the present by such stalwarts as Rod Piazza's Might Flyers (an obvious influence here) and the late William Clarke,
Formed in 2007 by vocalist Tom 'Big Son' Eliff and guitarist Mitch 'The Switch' Dow, southern California-based The Mighty Mojo Prophets' debut won them a ticket to the2012 Blues Music Awards in Memphis. Back in California (hence the title), they're now signed to Randy Chortkoff's Delta Groove label, a perfect fit for a band that blends Chicago blues, Memphis soul, and tight Texas grooves and comes out swinging every time.
The Prophets are a quartet - Eliff and Dow are joined by drummer Alex Schwartz and drummer Dave DeForest - and on six of the tracks here they're augmented only by guest Mike Malone on piano and organ. (Malone also adds backing vocals to a pair). They're more than able to hold their own on the sparser tracks, but while Dow is rock-solid, he isn't a particularly dazzling guitarist. The rest of the collection's thirteen songs feature either a horn section or harmonica, and they're where the music truly comes to life. Alex 'Li'l Al' Woodson adds harp to four, while San Pedro Slim contributes harmonica on "Lucky Man." Horns spice up an additional three tracks.
Dow and Eliff wrote all the material, and the songs are uniformly strong. There's "Sweetness," the opener, a grinder that nonetheless manages to swing furiously, and "The Gambler," a presumably autobiographical tale of a wayward father. "I Can't Believe" is all minor-key moodiness, while the threatening "The 45" is full of menace and danger.
"California" is a jumping, swinging delight, a recounting of their Memphis adventures and the joy of returning home. "Remember Me" is the collection's first slow blues, a grinding belly-rubber with great harmonica and a nice slide solo from Dow. "On For Me" picks the pace back up with some flat-out rock 'n' roll, and "Strong Medicine" rides a Bo Diddley beat to excellent effect. "Jo's Jive," the lone instrumental, is full of nice jazzy picking from Dow, but he really doesn't cut loose and the tune, while tight, is a bit underwhelming in the end. "She's Gone" finds Dow switching to acoustic for a pleasantly loping country-blues, as is "Whatulookinfor," a cautionary yarn that may not rest well with the feminists.
It's a solid collection, and Dow and Elif obviously have a firm grip on things; there's lots of variety, and band performances are sturdy throughout. Woodson and Slim's contributions on the lickin' stick add a great deal of excitement, and the horns add both texture and punch to the three tunes they're on.
Flyin' Home To Memphis is highly recommended, and for fans of West-Coast jump and swing, the Mighty Mojo Prophets are both cause for rejoicing and a band to watch.