John Latini is news to me and in the Blues News /New Blues department it’s that rarest of assignments for a journalist—a good news story. But first off, I have to disagree with the Ann Arbor Observer, which likened Latini’s voice to “the raspy, liquor-soaked growl of Tom Waits…” Maybe Latini was at the end of a long, exhausting tour the night the Observer’s reviewer saw him. To me the timbre of his voice reminds me more of Canadian bluesman David Wilcox, in a slightly lower register. It’s a voice that caught me off guard at first—I wasn’t sure I liked it, but it grew on me with repeated listens. Latini’s chugging guitar rhythms are reminiscent of Wilcox’s hit Bad Apple, and even a little of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s swamp boogie, especially on Rutabaga Cheesecake, with its faint echoes of Suzie Q.
These days it’s tough to find an album that can honestly boast more than a couple of tracks that will stand the test of time. In my experience, an album that takes more than a first listen to creep into your imagination often meets this test admirably, as The Blues Makes Me Feel Good does. Woodchuck Blues, written by Michael Latini, sounds like it was plucked from the classic blues songbook of Willie Dixon and is easily my favourite track on the album. The title track’s rhythm sashays along gracefully, the subtle instrumentation a perfect foil for Latini’s voice. Broken Man follows in a similar groove before shifting seamlessly into an uptempo bridge with a jazzy guitar break. My Town’s Got a River and a Train is a heartfelt tribute to the small town landscape of Latini’s adoptive Michigan while never succumbing to cliché. It’s all the more poignant given the tragic decay that has been allowed to befall cities like Flint. Latini’s songwriting here gives Bruce Springsteen a run for his money. The spare arrangement of I Will Be Haunting You, with just Latini on vocals and guitar, recalls a slow Howlin’ Wolf stomp. Although a thoroughly competent blues guitarist, Latini opts for a mostly ensemble approach to playing, making his occasional solos all the more scorching and memorable.
The arrangements are kept uncluttered, propelling Latini to the front of the mix. Even when the horns come on, they roll into the track like honey, not overwhelming saccharine. Kudos to Latini, Ross Huff and Nolan Mendenhall for avoiding the all-too-easy pitfall of drowning a track in horns. Call me a blues purist, but in my view a horn section is only one colour of the sound palette and should be used accordingly. Horn players who want to be featured artists need to move into jazz. Credit goes to Brian Roscoe White, Latini’s second guitarist, for a beautifully crisp yet warmly rich mix-down on this album. Far too many independently produced CDs suffer from poor mastering or mixing but The Blues Makes Me Feel Good isn’t one of them, thankfully.
Latini is another New Blues player in Frank Roszak’s stable of artists. Roszak clearly has a fine ear for picking up outstanding blues acts and exposing them to the world. With The Blues Makes Me Feel Good we can be thankful he does. As Latini’s website biography states: “Latini… knows that all the best American music flowers from blues roots, and whether he’s tearing it up at a blues fest or captivating a room with original songs, folk and blues go arm in arm in his music like the blood brothers they are.” Well said.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Review also published at http://www.bluemondaymonthly.com (Scroll way down; this is a PDF document.)
For more information on John Latini visit: http://www.johnlatini.com/biography/