John Mooney is part of the last group of New Orleans musicians to have worked alongside and learned from departed masters like Professor Longhair, Earl King, Snooks Eaglin et al.
A protégé of the blues great Son House, Mooney is a direct link to the foundations of that music. Mooney’s uncanny slide work defines the bottleneck style and informs his songwriting from the inside out—he’s come to the point as a Louisiana musician where he’s no longer in awe of the majesty surrounding him and swinging for the fences on every solo, but a carrier of a tradition suffused with the knowledge that the music can be a way of life that can be handed down for generations to come.
That’s how Mooney can write a song as good as “Row My Boat,” a celebration of Louisiana that I can safely say is not about Bayou Boogaloo, where there is water and music but not much room for rowing at this point.
Mooney also writes several other solid originals on the LP, including the title track, “Deal With Love” and “Ashes 2 Ashes.” He does great a version of the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Please Baby” and “Jailbird Love Song” and adds a moving take on the well-known traditional “Motherless Child,” a New Orleans touchstone.
Mooney has a great band with him here, built around bassist Rene Coman, Doug Belote on drums and Alfred “Uganda” Roberts on percussion. Jeff Watkins plays alto and tenor sax and Ian Smith trumpet and valve trombone. Special guests include keyboardists Jon Cleary, John Gros and CR Gruver as well as guitarist Jake Eckert, who co-produced the record with Cleary at his uptown Rhythm Shack Studios, where a lot of great music is being made these days. With finishing touches from the sound magician, Trina Shoemaker, the trick is in the mix.