Much like the musical reviews of old, Mississippi Heat is a fluid and constantly changing musical collective. Each recording features a core band led by Pierre Lacocque, usually with a slightly different lineup from project to project, with a series of guests to add vocal and instrumental variety.
On hand this time out are regular vocalist Inetta Visor, with guitarists Giles Corey and Billy Satterfield, bassist Joseph Velez and Kenny Smith on drums. Keys are shared by Chris ‘Hambone’ Cameron and Johnny Iguana. The guest list includes guitarists Billy Flynn and frequent collaborator Carl Weathersby, Chubby Carrier adding Cajun accordion to “New Orleans Man,” and Dietra Farr handling vocals on three tracks.
For all that, though, every Mississippi Heat project is clearly Lacocque’s, and as usual this one mixes some genuinely sublime moments – Lacocque is a phenomenally imaginative harmonica player – with some rather pedestrian material.
Lacocque’s background isn’t that of the typical ‘blues guy.’ Of Christian heritage, born in Israel, by the age of six he’d lived in France and Germany before settling in ancestral Belgium. Schooled in theology and philosophy, it wasn’t until his father, a renowned biblical scholar, received an Old Testament professorship at the University of Chicago in 1969 that Lacocque first encountered the sound of the blues harmonica. It literally changed his life, and he’s been playing blues ever since.
Lacocque’s writing is as varied as his background. He manages to touch on most styles, from straight-ahead stop-time shuffles (“Look-A-Here, Baby”) to the second-line syncopation of “New Orleans Man,” from the cool- jazzy “Lemon Twist” to the train-rhythm romp of “What’s Happening To Me.” There’s minor-key moodiness with “Goin’ To St. Louis,” swaggering funk on “The Blues Matrix,” and ”Trouble In His Trail” is a flat-out hard-core grinder. The only cover in the collection is a funked-up and rocked-out “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” a minor hit for The Animals in the '60s.
While Lacocque’s arrangements are creative and inventive enough to keep the music from feeling formulaic or contrived, that’s not always the case with his lyrics. His heart is invariably in the right place, but there are some genuinely cringe-worthy moments – “My Mother’s Plea,” despite its good intentions, is trite, and “The Blues Matrix” stretches its central metaphor a bit too far. And really, there ought to be a law against any more musically incestuous songs like “Sweet Ol’ Blues,” though Lacocque, uniquely so, does manage to reference 'Jacob and the angels’ in his paean to the music he loves.
When things work, though, the results are excellent. Lacocque is truly a wizard on the lickin’ stick, whether it’s hard-core amplified or fleet and lively acoustic. Perhaps it’s his unusual background, but his sound and tone and the riffs he plays are thoroughly distinct and endlessly inventive. Instrumental and vocal contributions are fine throughout, with some particularly nice solos from Weathersby.
A few quibbles with the material aside, this one’s a winner …!