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Guitar Mikey And The Real Thing
Out of the Box (Earwig Records)

April, 2012
Dave Rubin - 2005 KBA winner in journalism


With megawatts of pure blues energy to burn, it is a wonder that Michael "Guitar Mikey" McMillan took decades to move to "blues central" in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 2006.   Nonetheless, the Canadian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumental dynamo clearly found a home in the Delta.   His third album literally explodes "out of" and "outside" the "box" with 15 hard hitting, original compositions while containing a gleaming array of guest artists, including harp blower extraordinaire Billy Gibson and keyboard wizard Mark Yacovone.  

The audacious "Back to You" shows classic Zeppelin influence as Mikey slides fluidly on top of his urgent mandolin and banjo intro before the band powers into a rousing anthem of love.   The thumping shuffle of "That's No Way" crunches via a nasty, driving riff while showcasing his chesty tenor and striking turn of a phrase with "…you say what's your name and I say what's your game…what's your pain?" His lauded virtuosic slide work is revealed on the jumping Delta vamp of "Blues Attack," as is his fretting that makes his axe talk and squawk as Gibson brutally overdrives the reeds of his harp and both propel the momentum inexorably forward.   "It's a Sin" presents a raucous, funky N'Awlins groove featuring Yacovone pounding the 88s, Gibson busting a gut and Mikey throwing "snakes" with his slippery slider.   Slowing the tempo to a sensuous slow drag, Mikey pays masterful lyrical and instrumental tribute to Robert Johnson with "It's Goin' Down," stretching his sinewy vocal chops to an appropriate falsetto and also playing expert mandolin and bass.  

The easy grooving Gulf Coast R&B of "Livin' in the Big Time" has Mikey confessing a tale of romantic woe in the most soulful of dulcet tones, while doing a fine imitation of pedal steel guitar.   On the snappy Chicago shuffle "Blues Head" he cops to being a,"…no good blues head, she may be right, she kicked me from my bed," while Nellie "Tiger" Travis slyly sings the part of the disgruntled lover with Super Chikan helping Mikey argue his point of view.   "The Bigger Fool" is an aching slow weeper reminiscent of Mikey's original inspiration, Muddy Waters, and spotlighting former "Mud" sideman Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin buzzing like a "Honeybee" on slide.   The sassy shuffle "Need $100" recalls Axis: Bold As Love with Mikey, Gibson and Yacovone on organ in a cornucopia of harmony and melody.   "Freedom Road" is a worthy contribution to the world of road songs with Mikey intoning, "Too many nights, an unbalanced equation, that long white line looks like my only salvation," while "spanking the plank" with a squealing solo.  

Clanging a riff like the hammers of Hades on "Who Is She," Mikey and organist Peter Nunn blast the bruising rocker into orbit.   If the female object in question is as hot as the music on "Heart Shakin' Mama," someone better call an ambulance! "She Needs Time" vividly proves how Mikey absorbs his influences and makes them his own as he and backup singer Nellie "Tiger" Travis duet on the scalding country blues stomp.   "When Leo Starts to Growlin'" is funky old soul featuring the honking Hammerhead Horns and Alphonso Sanders on tenor sax to bolster the boasting lyrics regarding, "When the lion roars, it's like a hand grenade." The stunning minor key, big bore blues-rock of "Out of the Box" closes the set with Mikey at his most passionate vocally and instrumentally.  

Guitar Mikey has the heart of the "King of the Jungle" as he rules his blues with the wisdom to honor the tradition and the courage to pounce on a fresh idea.   The spectacular results are deeply profound with lyrical insights, while still rocking with unbridled exuberance.  



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