There’s the easy way to learn guitar (hiring someone to teach you) and then there’s the hard way: going to the notorious Parchman Farm Mississippi State Penitentiary. Learning guitar probably isn’t what Mark “Muleman” Massey planned to do during his time in prison, but he met one hell of a teacher there: legendary bluesman Junior Kimbrough’s son, David. When Massey got out, Big Jack Johnson served as Massey’s next teacher and the rest is blues history. Massey has since gone on to play juke joints and clubs in Mississippi and all over the South, proving he is not just a puff of smoke but the real deal.
For One Step Ahead of the Blues, Massey put together a nonpareil backing group, heavily flavored with Memphis soul, including Eric Gales on guitar, Garry Burnside on bass and Billy Earheart on Hammond organ and piano (with legendary producer Don Nix aboard as well).
From the album’s opening notes, it’s evident that Massey has worked hard at his crafts, both the guitar playing and the singing, and neither comes at the expense of the other. He has a smooth voice which has no trouble reaching for notes, and his playing is equally fluid and very tasty without overplaying things at all. This is an album that beautifully fuses blues, gospel and soul into one package that shouldn’t be missed.
– Bob Gottlieb