J. P. Reali Road to Mississippi.In this acoustic country blues set, Reali takes the part of actor, telling the stories of several characters on the way.

Label: Reali Records
Time: 12 Tracks / 35 minutes

The Road to Mississippi is an apt title for this brief third solo outing for Reali (pronounced re-AL-y) of acoustic country blues. He preserves the genre around the D.C. area, adding to it with his self-penned songs (a couple of these written with help from his brother).

His quest to be authentic makes me wonder what that means. Almost as bare as a skeleton on a nudist beach, this is stripped back to acoustic guitar and with no dressing up the vocal’s wobbly bits. The genre’s pioneers were not necessariily suited to smooth production or the close examinaton that today’s recording makes possible, and Reali’s occasional vocal unsteadiness, which tends to be exposed on the slower numbers (such as “Jefferson Lament”), need not lessen the authenticity of what he is creating.

There are two stars on this release. One is Reali’s guitar playing and the other is the harp-work by Mark Wenner. Wenner was lead singer with the Nighthawks (whose drummer Pete Ragusa produced this collection) and he adds both a lifting highlight colour to “I Do My Share of Drinking” and an ominous air to “The Book or the Bottle.” Each of the four times he appears, his work blends beautfully with Reali’s guitar. Reali selects his style to suit the song. A simple picking in “Biscuit-Baking Mama” is all that track needs, while elsewhere his slide-work sets the mood or strumming carries the song’s pace.

Several of these story songs are typically simple, but he goes deeper on “My Soul or Skin.” At under three minutes, the track leaves a strong impression as it asks, where does our identity lie: inside or outside? Wenner adds a poignant blues harp that blends perfectly with Reali’s fingerwork.   

There are ups and downs on this set. “I Do My Share of Drinking” is largely forgettable, although it does start with the cheeky line, “I do my share of drinking, but I never share my drink.” In contrast, despite the quiet tone, he lets rip on (yet) another drinking song, “Boozing in NYC,” where bassist John Previtti joins him and Ragusa for an upbeat blast of blues. It’s one of the stronger pieces, along with the classic-sounding “Cold Steel Blues.”

So while this will not shake the Earth, it has some fine parts to it.

Derek Walker
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