While we have been worried about the ‘future’ of Blues music in as much as it’s not too popular with younger African-Americans, the reality might be different if under-40 Blacks had a chance to at least hear Blues. But, as it’s completely removed from commercial radio and TV, only those who live in the remaining ‘hot beds’ get exposed to it and Chicago continues to surprise us with new artists who have picked up the torch. The Blues Tradition relies so heavily on established artists (those who remain) recruiting younger musicians from the Black community and there’s probably a couple of hundred Blues/R&B/Gospel musicians who got their musical training in the bands of B.B. King, Bobby Bland and Little Milton and Charles Mack and brother Mark got their ‘Living Tradition’ tutoring in James Cotton’s band. Mr. Cotton has a long history of having incredibly talented and tight young bands as there was a time (remember?) when James had to compete with 20-25 superb Chicago acts. Despite the near-extinction of Blues Clubs, James Cotton has been lucky enough, thanks to his Living Legend status, to maintain an ‘on-call’ band for festival and club gigs and with Charles Mack (bass) and Mark Mack (drums) the ‘take-no-prisoners’ rhythm section (a long-time Cotton tradition) has been maintained. Gigging with Cotton and Lucky Peterson as the bassist of choice, Charles conforms to the current music environment, i.e. musicians must be members of two or more bands in order to ensure constant employment and profile.
Charles has made some powerful and talented friends in and around Chicago and several of them contribute to this album. Just reading the promo sheet and seeing that Maurice Vaughn, Osee Anderson, Billy Branch and Roosevelt Purifoy, a.o., are participating told me that this would probably be an entertaining outing and this debut disc is definitely one of the Best independent releases to come out of Chicago in the last 5 years. Charles is one of the top young bassists on the scene today and the foundation that he got from his experiences and training with artists like Cotton and Peterson (timing, discipline, stage presence, etc.) translate into a well-executed and dynamic production. Like the majority of under-50 Black Blues artists, Mack’s music reflects genres-without-borders (R&B, Funk, Soul, Blues) and while some Blues purists ‘demand’ music that can be pigeon-holed into rigid categories we seem to forget that the application of genre categories to Black music is a White outsider thing that reflects our anal-retentive take on life. Saying that, let’s just say that Charles Mack’s CD will get labeled ‘Blues’, but more appropriately it’s Black Music that reflects all of his contemporary influences.
The opening track, "Movin", is a fine choice for a first tune and it’s got a dance-friendly funky beat with superb wah-wah guitar and great keyboards from Purifoy. "Tell Me" is a fine Funk/Blues fusion with a really dynamic back-up vocal chorus. "Never Have To" is one of my favorites: a low-key, impassioned-plea tune that has a great Gospel feel thanks to spooky vocal chorus arrangements (Mack deserves mucho credit for putting a very strong emphasis on vocal arrangements throughout the CD). "Just Wanna" has a lot of potential for whatever Black radio remains in the U.S. while "I’m a Blues Man" will probably appeal to White Blues radio deejays/audiences. "Rollin Down" is a joyous romp with nice slide and just incredible vocal work! Charles Mack ain’t Little Milton and I’m sure he would be the first to admit it, but what he does with his voice and voices of all the backing vocalists is truly amazing and it’s obvious the man has a very creative/thinking mind in creating music. Billy Branch lends dancing harmonica to "Rollin’ Down" and then we get into a stone Chicago Blues (modern) with "Cry No More", proving that he can get down when he wants to. Mark Mack’s drumming is magnificent on this tune with crashing cymbals and tom-tom adding such fire and passion to the song. A killer tune. Then we get Maurice John Vaughn making his entrance on "Little by Little" (the old Junior Wells theme song) and Charles and Maurice go to town. What started off as a ‘hybrid’ album sounds more and more like a Tough Blues album as we run through the material.
All in all, a really top-notch debut from Charles Mack thanks to a great combination of talent, world class vocal work and overwhelmingly great material. I’d be willing to bet Charles Mack will be one of our ‘Next Big Thing in Blues’ as this disc reflects a very exceptional musical mind. 4 1/2 bottles for a refreshingly unique and dynamic Blues debut.
Andy Grigg, Real Blues Magazine