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Guitar Mikey And The Real Thing
Out of the Box
(Earwig Music, 15 tracks; 70:24)

Blues Blast Magazine - Sep, 2012

Mike McMillan (aka Guitar Mikey) is Canadian but has lived in the States for some years. Currently resident in Clarksdale MS, this CD was recorded there with a mixture of musicians. Mikey produced the album, plays guitar throughout and also handles bass duties on some tracks. Elsewhere bass is by Daddy Rich, John Allouise or Terry Big T Williams; drums are by Marty Richards, Wes Vance or Lee Williams; Mark Yacovone, Peter Nunn and David Maxwell provide piano and organ; The Hammerhead horns provide support on five tracks and Memphis harp player Billy Gibson is a frequent guest, appearing on no fewer than eight tracks. Bob Margolin brings his distinctive slide tones to one track. Nellie "Tiger" Travis sings backing vocals on four tracks and fellow Clarksdale resident Super Chikan appears on one track. The songs are all original and Mikey had a hand in all of them, sometimes collaborating with Doug Carter. Mikey has issued CDs before (including an unhappy experience with a major label in the early 90s) but this is his first release on a national blues label.

Opening track "Back To You" sets a high standard for the album. The first verse is quiet, just mandolin and slide before the pulsing bass and electric guitar arrive to press the song along, horns and strings joining in also to give a really full sound. Mikey was obviously a busy guy as all the mandolin, banjo and guitar parts are played by him. Second track "That's No Way" is a good rocker with some tough guitar and a catchy chorus. Billy Gibson appears for the first time on "Blues Attack" and definitely adds value with his distinctive harp sound. The song features some great drumming in Bo Diddley vein that gets the toes tapping. "It's A Sin" ploughs a similar furrow as Billy lets rip on the harp on a fast-paced tune with sparkling piano by Mark Yacovone and some exciting slide playing by Mikey. The pace slows for "It's Goin' Down" in which Mikey channels his inner Robert Johnson on a country blues with more superb harp, piano and slide; lyrically Mikey plays with phrases we know from RJ ("I've got a good friend") and Dylan ("The times they are a' changing").

"Livin' In The Big Time" has almost a touch of country about it with twanging guitar. Nellie "Tiger" Travis's support vocal is a key factor in this tune, as well as more of Billy Gibson's expressive harp, on a song that reminisces about a former lover who headed for the bright lights: "She didn't want my straight life, she's out there somewhere tonight, living in the big time". "Blues Head" tells the story of the guy who spends all night at the juke joint and (perhaps not surprisingly!) receives a cool welcome when he returns home in the wee small hours. Super Chikan adds some of his distinctive guitar and Alphonso Sanders provides a super, cool sax solo.

"The Bigger Fool" is a classic slow blues in Muddy Waters style, so there is no better guest than Bob Margolin to play his Muddy-infused slide alongside David Maxwell's piano and Billy Gibson's harp. "Need $100" has a late night feel to it, due largely to Mikey's bass underpinnings and acoustic slide as well as David Yacovone's rippling organ. Billy Gibson sits out the next two songs, both of which are straight quartet performances: "Freedom Road" is a rocker on the habitual theme of ‘heading down the road out of town' while "Who Is She" starts off like Deep Purple, all swirling organ and major chords, before Mikey's vocal tells us about a chance encounter with a femme fatale.

"Heart Shakin' Mama" has a touch of funk in the rhythm and in Mikey's guitar. "She Needs Time" returns to a more country blues feel in terms of Mikey's playing while Nellie "Tiger" Travis and Billy Gibson bring their skills to bear in support. The horns return for "When Leo Starts To Growlin'" in which we learn that once the title happens all resistance is useless. Mikey's guitar plays a solo at the same time as Alphonso Sanders' sax to provide an exciting centerpiece to the song. Album closer is the title track "Out Of The Box", both horns and strings along for the ride alongside more strong guitar playing from Mikey.

Guitar Mikey sings well throughout and this is a well-produced album with a good range of material covering the blues spectrum - a CD well worth investigating.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music and enjoyed the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in April.

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