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Blues Guitar

Blacktop Mojo – ‘Burn The Ships’ CD Review by Abby Owen

To say Blacktop Mojo’s ‘Burn The Ships‘ has something for everyone is too simplistic. Let me elaborate. If you look for good drumming in your Rock music, this is truly bad-ass.  Nathan Gillis delivers spectacularly. If your favorite instrument is guitar, this far surpasses their peers. Ryan Kiefer flows from eloquence to knife-edge licks depending on what the song calls for, with Kenneth Irwin on as a very capable rythym guitarist. If the vocalist-frontman is who you look for as the standout, he is off the charts. Matt James growls out or softly sings the story with perfect pitch and conviction.  If you need to hear a strong bass-line to appreciate the mix, this is outstanding. Matt Curtis is as accomplished a bass player as he is fun to watch. If production is the thing that makes or breaks it for you, you will not be disappointed. This is top of the line. Right down to the album title and the artwork, this one hits it out of the park.15327426_1319681664730824_1293627615574736380_n

‘Where The Wind Blows’, the first radio single, is astonishingly good, and has been picked up by several media outlets. If you’d like to see the YOUTUBE VIDEO, <—(click here) to see what I mean.

The album lyrics are better than anything I’ve heard in a long while. They draw you in and make you feel you are witnessing a man’s struggle to make it in a restrictive and challenging existence. You feel his pain. The themes are sometimes based in classical literature, as in ‘Prodigal’ with the references to the Greek mythology of Icarus and his tragic fall into the sea after the wax in his homemade wings melted from him getting too close to the Sun. Other times it is a basic struggle between what is expected and what an individual has found for himself. “How do I describe the color of the sky when you’ve never been outside?” This is some of the brilliant introspection in the track ‘Shadows On The Wall’. Another is a warning to someone who never seems to learn in ‘Pyromaniac’. Even though the lyrics can be deep and philosophical, they stop short of being too ‘preachy’ and rather give one room to think and examine their own interpretations more easily. Who doesn’t feel the inner rage and Viking pride well up when singing along with the title track ‘Burn The Ships’, ”As you look into your enemies eyes there’s only one choice left …FIGHT OR DIE!!!”

16487300_10208206442986148_1992459204163220453_oAlthough they all contribute to the writing of the music, I cannot stress enough how impressed I am with the lyrics on all these album tracks. So much so, I had to find out who primarily writes the lyrics for the band, and I learned for this album it was mostly Matt James, vocalist and front-man. I’ve met Matt. It was shortly before the album dropped, in a small club in Baytown TX and he was the nicest, most humble guy in the world, and all the more reason I am thrilled to see them getting so much good recognition with this album. He isn’t the only writer, but he really shines on this one.

14600953_1289072831125041_3154020811934348625_nTheir live shows are incredible too; very professional and every bit as sharp and tight as the studio work. It wasn’t all that surprising to see them picked to open for Bon Jovi in early 2017 after winning a video contest, and then playing behind Sammy Hagar at SXSW in Austin shortly after. Right place, right time? …or competent and capable of stepping onto the ‘Big Stage’ with ease? Maybe a little of both. I mustn’t fail to mention their cover of ‘Dream On’ by Aerosmith is…dare I say, almost better than the original. Completely on point and very enjoyable.

Getting back to the production, they spared no expense in getting top notch engineers, production personnel, studios and mixing experts. Philip Mosley produced it along with Jimmy Johnson. Engineers include Steve Melton, Zachary Pancoast, John Gifford III & Spencer Coats. Mixing Engineer was Austin Deptula of Rosewood /Studios. The album was recorded at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville TN, Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals AL & Audioworx Studios in Palestine TX, a small town they call home in a city of roughly 18.5K people. Palestine is about midway and a little to the right (East) between Dallas and Houston.

To recap, GET THIS ALBUM! It hits all the points without a flaw, and believe me I looked.

Copyright 2017 – Abby Owen

Photos Used by Permission – Copyright 2017 – Blacktop Mojo

Kern Pratt ~ Broken Chains ~ Review & Interview by Abby Owen


Broken Chains, Kern Pratt’s new album has been getting some great reviews. No wonder. It’s solid. A real look into the past from the first note on a resonator guitar which becomes an interlude (that you didn’t realize you needed) between the fast pace of life and putting on this CD, setting you up for a step back in time and setting the tone of the project. Tradition. Blues. Soul. Nothing too flashy here. It’s old school right down to the rumba beat on ‘Don’t Leave Me Baby’, one of Kern’s own, by the way, to Albert Collins’ slow blues favorite ‘Lights Are On’, which gives my old Texas heart a twangy twitter. Reminds me a bit of Mark May’s style, but Pratt has a more earthy rumble vocally and has a nice sleepy guitar lead. Not ‘too many notes’, you might say. You can tell Pratt appreciates the nostalgic lure of the old greats, and identifies with them, growing up in the rough and tumble world of the South with its hot Summer nights and dingy Ice-houses. The world of the neon moon, as it were. The Texas blues-rock greats of the past like Albert Collins, Freddie King, Guitar Shorty were all influences of Hendrix and the Stones. If you’ve never listened to them much, do yourself a favor. They will never leave your collection again, I’m certain.


Pratt is from Jackson, MS which gives him a whole other take on the blues. Delta boogie and juke-joint roadhouses come to mind. Pratt’s ‘Greenville Mississippi Blues’ is a prime example of that rockin’ good-time music with keys pounding out the boogey-woogey. ‘Cotton Pickin’ is a fun-vibe instrumental with cool horns and tasty lead guitar. My favorite cover is his version of ‘Handcuffed To The Blues’. Funky groove!

11865348_1047928548560417_5159619702916849887_oKern Pratt has the look of a saddle-worn cowboy, with a voice that matches; a fitting image of a genre of music that’s a voice for the down-trodden and a cry for relief. But the blues can be a ‘juke-joint-jumpin’ rowdy good-time too. Kern Pratt has the fluidity to flow from one to the other with ease. When you add in his lovely lady Denise Owen, (we are not related, promise) it gets even more interesting. Their co-written ‘Soulshake’ is climbing the blues charts and has a fun, dance-able beat with a catchy tune & lyrics. Soft and sultry on ‘Smokin’ Gun’ Owen shows she is a talented songwriter as well as possessing a fluid soulful voice. Pratt has placed three times in the IBC’s in Memphis TN and has played with too many headliners to count. You can find out more about him on his website 

I asked Kern a few questions to add to this review, so here’s a little more about the man…

Q. I want to ask you about your parents. I see that you lost your mother early, age seven and your father in 2007. Would you like to tell your fans a little more about them, and their influence in your life?

A. Well, my mother’s death had a very profound effect on me, I can say it was and has been extremely difficult. That being said, it was at that time or not long after, I first started playing guitar. My dad owned a western auto store in Greenville, MS and right down the street was a music store. I would walk by and see the guitars, so I asked my dad to get me a guitar and lessons. This kind of gave me an outlet for the way I dealt with losing my mother. My dad always encouraged my music, in fact it was at his store that I met many great blues artists. For example, Calep Emphrey, “B.B. Kings” Drummer, Eugene Powel, AKA “Sonny Boy Nelson” Eddie Shaw “Howlin’ Wolf’s” sax player and band leader, just to name a few. There is so many other’s. Growing up around these great Blues artists definitely shaped the direction my music would go in. As I got older, my dad had the biggest influence on me; he was my biggest fan until the day he died, and I really miss him…

Q. What was what you consider to be your first ‘break’? Weather by luck or by hard work, that moment you feel you broke through to a larger audience.

A. I’ve been playing music for a really long time. I worked as a sideman for some really famous artists. I played with all the Great Greenville, MS bluesman and women. So its been a long road, I guess I would say I feel that I moved to another level about 8 weeks ago on Sunday. When I heard my songs on Live at the Midnight Circus with Richard L’ Hommedieu. After that, things just started rolling like crazy. In just five days we were number 1 in Mississippi. Number 22 nationwide and came in the Top 100 Picks at number 79 and we’ve moved to Number 57 as of this week.

Q. What happens when you are songwriting? What is the process you go through.Your method?

A. It’s funny, sometimes I just hear a riff in my head, or someone says something, and I think man that’s a good idea for a song. Sometimes something I read or something I dream about can make me think that as well. I woke up last night with an idea, but didn’t go to my voice recorder. Sometimes I’m not disciplined enough, but I try…

Q. We can all agree that the ‘music biz’ has changed drastically. What’s your take on it? (The good and/or the bad.)

A. Absolutely! The Indie Music Movement has begun to really take off, giving independent artists- like myself a worldwide form. Streaming, self distribution, i.e. CD Baby, ITunes, Amazon, Reverbnation, etc. has given artists control over things. In my opinion, it is the future of the music industry. Traditional stations are still very important because it does keep it personal, but podcasts and internet stations do that as well. I don’t see a down side.

Q. I know it’s a hard question, when music is obviously your passion, but if you HAD TO pick another profession, if there was no such thing as music, what would you like it to be?

A. It’s not a hard question, at all when my dad got ill I had to work as a EMT. I still played but I also worked shifts because I couldn’t travel and needed the security. So I’m feeling even more blessed and fortunate to be able to do what I love – playing the Blues!!

Q. What are some of the highlights from this album recording, or stories from the studio?

A. We had a wonderful experience in the studio, working with a Producer like David Hyde and an engineer like Nelson Blanchard and so many Great Musicians was exhilarating! But working with my singing partner and best friend, Denise Owen was by far the coolest thing!

Q. Do you have any ‘stories from the road’ or from gigging in your hometown that your fans might find amusing?

A. Yeah! We were on the road a few years ago and we got canceled on a gig, and were broke and hadn’t ate in a couple of days, so I said “Fella’s we’re going to Denny’s”. Then they said “we ain’t got no money” so I said “Y’all just trust me on this”.  So we walked on over and I told them “y’all get all the ketchup y’all can find and all the crackers”. I asked the waitress for 5 cups of hot water, and I told the guys to squeeze all the ketchup and crush the crackers in the cups and we had Redneck Tomato Soup!!! And it was real good at that point… That’s the Blues!

Q. Would you like to share with your fans something about your personal life, or your relationship? You have a lovely lady that is involved with your career, so I know many of us would like to know more. How you met? How you compliment one another? Funny stories to share? Future plans?

A. You know, I can’t get used to the word fan or fans. I consider these folk’s “Friends” that enjoy our music – normally I wouldn’t discuss my personal life but I’m going to make an exception this time because there are a lot of pictures on social media, etc. So here it goes, Denise Owen is my singing partner and is a professional with a life time in the music business. She has a solo track called “Smokin’ Gun” on the CD. We sing a duet – “Soulshake” on the CD as well. Incidentely, both are doing very well on the charts. So now, I’ll tell you about the other part. Yes, Denise is lovely and it’s great to be able to share the music with her. I saw Denise here in Jackson, MS 4-5 years ago; she was singing in a show band and I kinda thought, well she sure can sing and damn she’s pretty too! Well, I moved to Jackson, MS and started playing and we ended up working together as a duo, and I think y’all can figure out the rest. We sing great together, we laugh a lot and she’s my best friend. For the future? I’m gonna have to keep that underwraps, but you never know when you might hear some really cool news!

Q. Would you like to share something about the talented folks you surround yourself with as far as your ‘team’?

A. Absolutely! First, my executive producer, Kerry Brashear has been great. David Hyde has a history too long to go into! He did a great job producing this album and others; he is pure genius. Nelson Blanchard’s contribution was plain incredible. Engineered, mixed, background vocals – he is so talented. Denise Owen of course. Our special guest, Eden Brent… who I grew up with and has been a life long friend. The Blue’s Great Kenny Neal. Luc Borms, from Belgium who is also a great friend. Wes Lee, who played Resonater. My publicists Frank Roszak, who has done a remarkable job; I am proud he is on board, and even more proud to call him my friend. I have Johnny Palazzotto out of Baton Rouge, helping me also; he has been in this business a long time and I’m thankful for his help.

Q. What’s in store for Kern Pratt’s future? What do you have lined up? Also, what would you love to do musically if you could, and who with?

A. We are booked on some larger festivals, and are opening some shows for several major artists. We are hoping to sign with a booking agency soon and start touring. We are also looking at a tour in Belgium and possibly France next year. I’m already looking at doing another album, and Denise and I are also going to do another album together. That will be really cool.

To wrap this up I’d just like to say best of luck to you both, and keep on doing what you love! …looks like it’s working for you.

Copyright 2015 – Abby Owen, Photo Credits – JeffreLee Photography & Vicksburg Blues Society, Jim Steeby – Copyright 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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