Best known for his screenplays (Crossroads, Young Guns, Hidalgo, The Highwaymen), John Fusco shows again on his second album that heâ€™s no dilettante as a blues vocalist, instrumentalist, songwriter or band leader. Last yearâ€™s debut with the X-Road Riders grew out of some jam sessions with Cody Dickinson, and this yearâ€™s model doubles down with a 2-CD outing that splits the discs between two bands – one drawn from north of the Mason-Dixon line, and the other from south. Each band offers a number of influences, and across the two discs the set provides a variety of blues, soul, pop, gospel and rock. Fusco provides continuity between the two bands, but also takes the opportunity to launch in different directions with each.
The southern band (or â€œchapter,â€ as designated in the liner notes) fires on all cylinders for â€œBone Deep,â€ with Fuscoâ€™s raspy vocal underlined by Risse Normanâ€™s soulful singing, alongside harmonica, and guitar, and organ that brings to mind Booker T & The MGs. Sarah Morrowâ€™s trombone adds sly annotations and a solo to the cautionary â€œIt Takes a Man,â€ and Norman and Fuscoâ€™s back-and-forth duet highlights â€œDonâ€™t Mess Up a Good Thing.â€ Fuscoâ€™s vocals and piano take a turn towards Dr. John for â€œOphelia,â€ and Patrick Mossâ€™s fiddle accompanies lyrics of enduring love on the Chris Staplelton-like â€œApplejack Brandy.â€ Disc one closes with a ten-minute workout on â€œBad Dogâ€ and the not-at-all-subtle political right hook â€œSnake Oil Man.â€
The northern band opens with the lost faith of â€œSong for Peterâ€ and its testimony of a longtime street denizen. Itâ€™s the sort of story we often hurry past, but Fuscoâ€™s soulful vocal and piano, supported by a warm bass line and shot through by electric guitar, get beneath the ragged surface and call for you to listen. The second disc stretches out stylistically, getting funkier and jazzier for â€œJacqueline,â€ mixing in ballads that suggest Leon Russellâ€™s solo work, dramatic rock that would sound at home in a Bob Seger set, and the â€˜70s-styled country-pop â€œMotel Laws of Arizona.â€ Fusco voice draws together the eclectic stylings into a coherent double album whose variety essays a fertile chapter in a film writerâ€™s not-so-second career as a music maker. [Â©2020 Hyperbolium]