John Mooney
Dealing With the Devil
Ruf 1015
So much blues rests on the myth of guys meeting Satan at the crossroads and trading their souls for excellent guitar licks. Mooney, a long-time singer and revivalist, taps into that spirit pretty well -- and that's not just because of the great album cover paintings, in which a cartoonish Mooney receives a guitar from the Devil and catches on fire.

Mooney is certainly not the first slide guitarist to play Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go" or Robert Johnson's "Travelin' Riverside Blues" exactly this way. But at this 1995 concert in Schauburg, Bremen, he summons enough inner fire to make the old standards sound passionate and, occasionally, evil.

Still, the first several songs seem subdued. That changes with the short "Broken Mold," where Mooney sounds like he just torched his fingers before playing his original. He plucks notes so they sound jagged, uncomfortable, occasionally exploding into quickly strummed rock'n'roll power chords. The only antidote is his voice, friendly and deep with a familiar Eric Clapton twinge.

Mooney is sort of an electric version of John Hammond Jr., who has been trying to channel the spirits of Johnson and Son House through intense grimacing and acoustic guitar-playing. Like Hammond, Mooney tosses in a couple of predictable blues covers (including the New Orleans classic "Junco Partner") and some more obscure gems (including Charley Jordan's "Keep It Clean"). But there's a sloppy, scary edge to this album that implies Mooney really did meet a big guy at the crossroads. Maybe pictures don't lie.

-- Steve Knopper

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