Mickey Stephens and the Poor Blue – Wasteground (2018)

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Put together by former Mighty Shamrocks lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Mickey Stephens, the Charlotte, N.C.-based Poor Blue also features ex-Animal Bag bassist Otis Hughes, lead guitarist Tom Williams and drummer Jeff Kephart. Additional musicians appearing on the Poor Blue’s excellent self-released sophomore outing Wasteground are trumpet player Brandon Nater, percussionist Chris Garges and Jamie Hoover from Spongetones on piano, who mixed the recording as well.

An autobiographical tour de force, Wasteground charts Mickey’s years growing up in Ireland against the backdrop of the political and religious turmoil of the ’70s. Stephens narrates his experiences, thoughts and reflections in an easy-going drawl, caught somewhere between the grizzled ridges of Bob Dylan and the talk-singing tenor of Lou Reed. The music is quite varied, offering samples of jazz, pop and country folk, but such genres are melded with taste and manage to maintain a readily identifiable demeanor.

Shaped of skittish rhythms geared to get the toes tapping, “Guest of Honor” is a hooky little keeper, “Causeway Street” ripples with ghostly echoes and “Mr. In Between” hammers a galloping rockabilly beat to jazz figures. Highlighted by flashes of potent jamming, both “Troubles” and “Generosity” occupy a hard-rocking zone.

The title track of the Poor Blue’s Wasteground – along with a pair of reprises, “Wasteground Calling” and “Wasteground Return” – is seasoned with moody and unsettling ingredients, supported by unconventional structures and melodies.

The very impressive Wasteground hardly seems like a second album. Mickey Stephens and the Poor Blue have a great rapport and are spontaneously inspired in their delivery of jazzy roots rock sounds. Here’s hoping the band hangs in there and continues to make more music like this that simultaneously challenges and entertains the listener.

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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