TOM MASON & THE BLUE BUCCANEERS     Songwriter, actor, multi-instrumentalist (and pirate) Tom Mason sips his coffee at Bongo East and recalls a trip to the Virgin Islands around a decade ago. He was playing guitar for Eric Brace’s band, Last Train Home — two weeks of seaside bars in an island paradise. (Nice work if you can get it.) One day, with an afternoon to kill amidst the warm breezes and sunlight dancing atop the sea, Tom fancied writing something locale-specific. So he wrote “Pirate Song,” a jaunty, swashbuckling ditty that made up for in charm what it lacked in a title. That was where the matter lay for a while. A couple of years later Mason was in the traveling theater company of the musical Ring of Fire, and one night after the show, the whole cast and crew were holed up in a motel without much more to do than pass a guitar around. When the axe made it into Tom’s hands, he chose — apropos of nothing — to play “Pirate Song.” The snarling, minor key chantey, tailor-made for swaying and clinking beers, went down a storm. “Tom,” someone said, “you’ve got to write a musical!” So that’s what he set out to do. “I started studying up on pirates and found how it is really an interesting time in history,” he says. “Writing songs for a stage musical probably helped keep me away from the hokum (read: Arrrrgh, mateys!), as I was trying to make these people come alive, the characters in the songs.” What Mason got for his efforts was 13 well-crafted tunes about pirates and piracy. They weren’t all pastiche sea chanteys, English accents, and “yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum!” Indeed, they were solid songs and not so far removed from artists who look backward some centuries for melodic and subject matter without forsaking modern ideas of what a song should be. “You’ve Never Seen the Likes of Me” had much in common with Richard Thompson’s reminiscent side, and “In the Service of the King” would fit in well on most any of The Pogues’ albums. But derivative they were not. The collection of songs he wound up with more than held up on their own. The problem — so far as writing a musical theater production goes — was Mason had not a scrap of dialogue, much less a cast of characters or plot. All he had were songs. And when one has a baker’s dozen worth of songs in Nashville, one most likely does one of two things. You either peddle the songs on Music Row (not bloody likely in this particular case), or you make an album. He did the latter. “I got [drummer] Paul Griffith and [bassist] Lorne Rall and a bunch of friends together, mainly friends from East Nashville, and we made a record.” Mason says. The album, The Blue Buccaneer, was released in 2011. And then fate stepped in, dancing a jig. “I found out there were all these opportunities to play — maritime festivals, tall ships festivals, and pirate festivals,” Mason says. Invitations to play poured in, from all around the U.S., Europe, and Australia. As the travel itinerary grew, so did the band, as often as not incorporating local talent in whatever environs the buccaneer minstrels found themselves in. “I always wanted a bigger band — I love it when it grows,” he says. “We’ve become like The Pogues or The Waco Brothers or these other bands that are huge and kind of crazy. I feel like that’s kind of like a pirate crew.” Said crew has come to include bagpipes, banjo, and the de rigueur penny whistle. And perhaps it goes without saying that they all dress up as pirates onstage. “Something I’ve found about this band that’s different is that the crowds we draw are less self-conscious,” Mason says. “We all know how self-consciousness is the enemy of art, but it’s also the enemy of fun. And if people walk into a club or a festival or something and see this band dressed up as pirates, they let their guard down. They’re already outsiders, and they stop worrying about themselves as much as they ordinarily would, and we end up having these great sing-alongs, which makes it more communal.” So do they all become pirates for a night? “Yeah, we bring a few extra hats,” he says  and laughs. While the first record was ostensibly a solo album, he has since released two more full-length recordings with the rowdy crew credited to Tom Mason & The Blue Buccaneers — 2012’s A Pirate’s Christmasand 2014’s The World Is Ablaze. He also released the single "Talk Like a Pirate" in 2013 in commemoration of Talk Like a Pirate Day. And yes, there is such a thing; it’s Sept. 19. The band works about half the weekends over the span of a year. Mason has his hometown band with players who may be chained to mortgages, and freer spirits who come with him for road dates, along with designated pirates who join the band in different areas of the country, or abroad. Prior to the piracy business model, Mason was much loved for his bluesy, lilting solo work, his slide guitar playing, and genial, low-maintenance ability to complement any act he might be playing with, at home or on the road. He released four solo albums and several singles over his 22 years in town. “I made a record here called Where Shadows Fall, then an instrumental Christmas CD, and then a record called Alchemy, which was pretty ambitious, with a lot of characters in it. It came with a 16-page booklet. I’m really proud of it, but it was expensive to do.” A smiling, ebullient gent, with long, curly strawberry brown hair and a matching goatee, he came to Nashville in 1993 after two years in Chicago. He was born in the magic ’60s and raised in Minneapolis. (Two decades in Music City has bleached much of the “you betcha” from his accent.) “I had two older brothers and two older sisters, and they turned me on to John Prine, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, Doc Watson, and a lot of old blues,” he says. “I was really lucky.” Mason first picked up the guitar at the age of 11, and he caught the slide guitar bug that very first day. “My brother open-tuned a guitar for me, taught me two chords, and off I went playing ‘Waiting For the Man.’ “I started getting into theater in high school,” he continues. “I went to theater school as a kid, and gave it up for rock & roll in college.”   Indeed, while he matriculated at the University of Minnesota in the early ’80s, he joined a band and moved into the band house, where rehearsals were a daily thing. They heard about a hot guitar player and invited him over for a jam. That is how a shy, bespectacled Paul Westerberg wound up in the group for a few months. “We hired him for his guitar playing,” Mason says. “He never once told us he wrote songs. “I wasn’t emotionally into the college thing so much, and I saw this ad for what turned out to be an Elvis impersonation act, but I didn’t know what it was from just reading the ad,” he says, “All I saw was that it paid $300 a week for a traveling musician who played keyboard and guitar. So I got on the road with this Elvis impersonator, playing these little towns. I barely played keyboard, but they had this keyboard that one pedal you pressed would bring the orchestra in, and one pedal you pressed it would bring the horns in. That gave me a lot of stage experience. I was off doing that for a year, and then I came home, moved to Chicago and started doing originals.” He cut a couple of 45s with bands, and also made cassettes to peddle, producing them at home on a dubbing deck and putting artwork on the J-card — whatever it took to get the music out there. Having moved to Nashville in ’93, he became immersed in both the acting and music scenes, often getting work in the former because he could sing and play multiple instruments, which proved useful for some roles. He appeared in videos for Ricky Van Shelton and Alan Jackson. “And then I was in The Green Mile. If you see the scene with 400 prisoners working on a chain gang out in a field, you can’t miss me,” he says with a laugh. “I tried to find me by getting the DVD and pausing it, and I couldn’t. But you know, show business!” Recently, in addition to The Blue Buccaneers, he did a couple of years playing with Phil Lee. “He’s such a great entertainer, in a real old-fashioned vaudeville way,” Mason says. “He was a joy to play with.” And what is next on the horizon? Well, what else? Talk Like a Pirate Day is right around the corner. In Nashville that day, Mason and The Blue Buccaneers will be playing not once, nor twice, but a full four times. “In East Nashville, we’re starting out at the Shelby Bottoms Nature Center at 10 a.m., we’ll finish the night out at 10 p.m. at the new Family Wash, and in between, we’re going to do the library on Thompson Lane, and one in Spring Hill.” Does he expect pirates to come out? “Yep. We’ll have little pirates for the early show, and big pirates for the later one. In the morning we’ll have kids acting like adults, and in the evening we’ll have adults acting like kids. And it’ll be a perfect antidote for the Americana Music Association conference.” When asked if he can be quoted on that, Mason roars with laughter; then after taking a sip of his coffee, says enthusiastically,  “Yes, please!” ” - Tommy Womack

The East Nashvillian

Musician Tom Mason is having time of his life — as a pirate     Share on printShare on email By Jim Walsh | 08/28/13 Photo by Mickey Dobo A pirate. And a damn charming one, to boot.           .  .  . ..Tom Mason was a fixture on the Twin Cities rock scene throughout the '80s, playing withPaul Westerberg in their short-lived pop outfit Rock Island, touring with songwriter/guitarist Jeff Waryan in Figures, and gigging with his own bands Dream Diesel, The Kingpins, and Mile One. In 1991 he moved to Chicago, and a couple years later he landed in Nashville, where songwriters migrate to and breed like tribbles. “When I first was in Nashville, I lived in an office on Music Row with a publisher,” said Mason, nursing a coffee at Anodyne Coffeeshop in South Minneapolis last week. “I’d sit up in the front window looking out at the Warner Bros. building across the street and I’d watch all these songwriters walking in with their guitars, and a few minutes later they’d come out with their dreams dead. After a while I decided I wanted something to fall back on. So I took up acting.” At this, with a permanent twinkle in his eyes, Mason lets go an easy and jolly laugh – one befitting Santa Claus or a man who admits to “having the time of my life” as a working pirate. Aye matey, ye heard right: A pirate. And a damn charming one, to boot. It was 2007 when actor-musician Mason was on tour with the Johnny Cash-inspired musical “Ring Of Fire” that he found himself at post-gig jams messing around with a pirate accent and making up tunes. Some of the cast members encouraged him to write a pirate musical, but Mason’s vision was of a band that played and recorded original pirate songs, and Tom Mason & The Blue Buccaneers was born. Courtesy of Tom Mason Mason performing at a pirate festival in Conwy, Wales “There’s all kinds of pirate festivals, maritime festivals, tall ships festivals everywhere,” said Mason, who will perform Wednesday (today) and Thursday (10:45, noon, and 1:15) at the State Fair’s International Bazaar Stage. “Every gig is fun. In my career, I’ve never wanted to give myself to one style of music. This ‘genre’ is wide open, because [pirates] travel around the world, and I can use little aspects of all kinds of world music. At first it was kind of a Pogues approach; Celtic and Irish and Scottish music played by rock musicians. But now it’s like, throw in a little gypsy, a little Afro-Caribbean …” The hornswagglin’ bastard is talking about pillaging and looting from other cultures, but Mason does so with much more creativity and authenticity than, say, the myriad Captain Jack Black impersonators he finds trolling the pirate circuit.  To be sure, the traveling musician is the most obvious pirate corollary to be found – shiver me timbers and hoist yer flags and flasks to Keith Richards, ye scurvy dawgs! — and in that respect, Mason does more than just put on a costume: He knows his pirate lore and history well. “They came out of economic despair,” he said. “A lot of times, a lot of these pirates would be sailors for the Royal Navy [of England] and as soon as the wars were ended, they’d be stuck without any work, and a lot of them didn’t want to be in the navy, either. They were pressed into service. “There’s a song on the record called ‘In The Service of the King’ about the press gangs, that would come to the ports of London and Bristol and Liverpool, and collect up sailors and get ‘em drunk and bring ‘em on board the ship and suddenly they were in the Royal Navy, where they were treated badly and paid nothing and the hours were long. They didn’t have much choice. “Then there were the privateers, which were kind of the legal pirates. The queen would issue a letter of mark, something that would allow them to legally attack and plunder ships of countries they were at war with. And after that, they could no longer legally do it, so they became pirates.” Photo by Leanne Brandness Mason performs at the Minnesota State Fair. Aargh! Mason’s favorite pirate is Blackbeard (“a showman”), and cites Robert Newton, the actor who played Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney film “Treasure Island,” as the man responsible for the aaargchtypical pirate accent. The very same one used by the Portland, Ore., landlubbers who launched International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19), which Mason penned and recorded the theme song for.   “It’s been great, because I’ve been touring as a singer/songwriter for years, and I’ve toured playing guitar with other songwriters, and that’s a hard road to take: a house concert here and a house concert there,” said Mason, who describes himself as – lock up yer wenches and womenfolk, buckos! — “happily divorced.”  “I was always a shy kid, I had a hard time talking to girls, but you put a tricorn hat on and it gives you license to flirt, to come out of your shell. That’s part of the appeal of the pirate festivals: Every day is Halloween. And there aren’t that many doing it. There are traditional sea shanty bands and singers, which I like, but not so many songwriters and full bands committed to pirate tunes.” ” - Jim Walsh “a great album from start to finish” “a joyous album in the same way that the Pogues music is with its sense of community and the living of life to the full”. “as much fun as it is musically compelling” Steve Rapid, (Dublin, Ireland) “Tom Mason isn't just a songwriter, singer and guitar virtuoso, he's a terrific entertainer.” “his pirate songs have choruses that the audience can bellow along with, the best way to enjoy pirate music” John Baur, co-creator of “Talk Like a Pirate Day” “I thoroughly enjoyed it. ...the album succeeds in setting a buccaneer mood for a party, voyage or road trip by evoking the romanticized life of the Golden Age of Pirates. Refill your tankard and enjoy the passage, me hearties.” Linda Collison,”

— Short Quotes

Tom Mason On Pirates And Steering The Blue Buccaneer SATURDAY, APRIL 30, 2011 AT 06:37AM  Tom, you had a track on your last album Pirate Song so I assume that the theme was something that you wanted to explore further and that you have an interest in. I wrote Pirate Song after a few tours of the Virgin Islands with Last Train Home and a band called the Big Happy. I thought I needed a pirate song, and so I found some glossaries on the internet, including, and wrote a drinking song using all the terminology I could find. Not long after I wrote it I was cast in the national tour of the Broadway musical Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash. The sixteen member cast, a mixture of musicians and actors, would gather in hotel rooms for late night, post-show jam sessions, and Pirate Song was always a big hit. My cast-mates convinced me to start writing a musical, and I began devouring all the books and source material I could find. As I wrote more and more songs for the project I realized how much fun they’d be to play with a band. These are all original songs that you have written for the album. Was it difficult to write a set of songs around the one topic and what did you use as a reference source for the music? It’s such a rich era that I even wrote some songs that were left off the album. It may seem like a stretch, but looking at the ever-widening gap between rich and poor in modern America, the project has given me somewhere to focus my sense of frustration. The pirates may have been a cruel and ruthless lot, but they rose out of dire economic circumstances with almost no hope of advancement. As far as the sources go, I have to confess my retention skills are not great when I’m reading, (the only thing I remember from a year of taking Chinese is my translation of James Brown’s I Feel Good!) but certain passages in the books I read spark ideas for songs. Sheriff’s Dance was inspired by The Pirate Hunter, a book about Captain Kidd, and The Empire of Blue Water, about Henry Morgan with great descriptions of the cruelty of the press gangs, inspired In The Service of the King. Blackbeard has provided me with a lot, especially in Decked Out Like the Devil; his modus operandi was all showbiz, scaring his victims by weaving lit fuses into his hair, to the point that they would surrender with little or no fight. I now have a shelf filled with books about pirates. Musically there were a number of major influences on the CD. On a trip to Australia in 2005 I saw and befriended The Bushwackers, the legendary 40 year old Aussie band that often draws comparisons to Fairport Convention and the Pogues. I was blown away by how much fun they were, and loved their songs about the bushranger Ned Kelly and about Australian history. Then while on the road with Ring of Fire I started learning Irish fiddle tunes on the mandolin, songs I’d first played in an old-time band in Chicago years ago. Those songs and the Bushwackers material colored some of The Blue Buccaneer. I also didn’t shy away from afro-cuban rhythms (a good part of the history of pirates took place in the Caribbean, after all.) I’m naturally more of a blues player, so when the material veered into that territory I played up what the “talk like a pirate” creators call my “Pirattitude”. The album comes across as a lot of fun to have made, was that the case? Without a doubt! There was Paul Griffith on drums, Lorne Rall on bass and myself and we went into Thomm Jutz’s studio, he’s been guitarist for Mary Gauthier, Nancy Griffith and others. I’d given them rough demos and charts and I gave them free reign. I was thrilled at how much variety they gave to the grooves. (At some point I’ve learned not to try to control sessions, and that anything the musicians I work with come up with is far better than I could have dreamed of.) After laying the basics I took the tracks home and started inviting my friends over to play. It all took place during the Christmas/New Year’s vacation, typically a very quiet time around Nashville,but there was a Jolly Roger flying just off the Cumberland River where a rowdy bunch of rovers were singing and playing. I love it when musicians step out of their usual realm and play a style outside of what they’re known for. I had Peter Hyrka, Nashville’s Stephane Grappelli, playing Irish fiddle lines before his one-take nailing of My Little Pearl, and much of the back-up vocals were done by Phil Lee, Eric Brace, and Peter Cooper, Americana artists I play guitar for frequently. If it hadn’t been recorded over the holidays I would have had even more denizens of East Nashville coming by. My whole approach to the band is, much like the pirate ships themselves, to recruit on the spot. You work both as a solo artist performing your own work and a sideman for others and have played with Phil Lee for a long time. Do you get a different degree of satisfaction from each role? I do. When I’m performing my own material the greatest challenge is to get the mind to stop, much like an actor, because self-consciousness is the enemy of good performances. I don’t want to stop doing either because they feed each other. It’s easy to be a sideman when I believe in the work and the showmanship, which is the case with Phil. I also generally do my own set with Phil, and Eric Brace of Last Train Home has me do some songs every show, so I’m reaching people I may not reach on my own. I’m also able to see the perspective of both sidemen and band leaders, which eliminates a lot of frustration. Having done some acting you seem well able to bring some sense of theatre to your performance. Would you like to explore the link between music and theatre further? Very much so. I try to bring theatricality to all my shows, and I think that’s a very important aspect these days. With the proliferation of youtube and instant downloads, I think live performance is our major currency, and feel more akin to traveling vaudevillians than the rock bands I grew up with. I’m also going to finish the pirate musical, and the touring I do with The Blue Buccaneers gives me a chance to do more research. You live in Nashville and often play in Austin but how is it for a professional musician outside those particular pockets of musical interest? It’s especially great to tour to some of the smaller cities, where we often get a good response because they’re hungrier for music. I actually haven’t been booking many shows in Nashville the past few years, and am more apt to grab my friends, jump in the van, and go play in another town. I love Nashville because the level of musicianship and songwriting is so high, but other scenes have us beat as far as daring and originality go. Have you any ambition to do another themed album or will you just let new songs dictate the direction of the music? I do want to release an album of my Nashville songs, songs that I’ve written and co-written over my years here that are more firmly entrenched in the Americana and country genres. I’ve also always intended to put out an all electric record in the style of Tom Verlaine and Television, but I think that one will be put off forever! At the moment I’m still writing more songs for the musical. Although you have been associated with and play roots music the scope of what you do and play is much wider do you put any restrictions on the music you make? I don’t put any restrictions on my music, and my favorite music is when different styles come together. I can understand the fervor of purists and revivalists, but I’d rather hear something I’d never heard before, something with a little mystery. I used to hang art in museums, and a painter friend told me he never painted representational work because there was no need with photography, and I like that attitude. I place myself in the Americana field out of some ideal that I think Americana should represent, a melting pot of influences. Have been a full-time musician/actor for some time how difficult is it for you to make a living these days? Damn near impossible! As they say, it’s either snack or famine. Something usually trickles in just in the nick of time, though. The carrot on my stick is the dreadful jobs I’ve done in the past, ever reminding me to keep working! As musician who have been your lasting influences? There are so many but I can point out some characteristics that have influenced me. The Band created a nostalgia for a time that never quite was, which drew me in. Dylan and Waits transported me, and I liked that. As a musician I started out playing the blues. I had a piano teacher who figured out that I would practice more if she taught me boogie woogie. A lot of the artists whose writing I liked were into the Harry Smith Anthology, and when I was a child my family would sing folk songs. You have played in Europe, how do you find the different audiences tend to respond to your music as there is a sense that the songs on The Blue Buccaneer would be probably be appreciated over here? I’d love to tour with the Blue Buccaneers in Europe, and would especially like to recruit players over there to do shows with us. I’m working on coming over in the summer of 2012 if not sooner. It’s such a joy to play with new people, and I never shy away from it. Paul Griffith, Lorne Rall, and I did a tour of the Virgin Islands last month and were joined by a pair of seventy year old percussionists who took the groove to a whole new level. I hope to get some Irish and Scottish musicians to play these tunes when I’m over there, sort of my version of the Rolling Stones jamming with Muddy Waters. Interview by Stephen Rapid, photograph by Ronnie Norton” - Stephen Rapid


THIS MONTH’S DOWNLOADING PROSPECTS Alchemy, Tom Mason (’s best known as a guitarist but the best songs here are about other kinds of musicians:  “Little Walter,” about the greatest blues harpist of ‘em all and “Chano Pozo’s Shoes,” about the drummer who showed Dizzy Gillespie, then everybody else, the road from bebop to Latin jazz. The rest of it’s focused on sleight of hand, seen sometimes in sinister terms (“Conjuring”) sometimes riotously (“The World Is Drunk,” which is hardly an explanation), and sometimes just as an excuse for tale-spinning, at which Mason’s as talented as he is at fret-work.” - Dave Marsh


 No. 228

Tom Mason Alchemy Gas Station Music An all-round musician, singer and songwriter Tom Mason has been a part of the East Nashville musical community for a long time now, either in his own right or as a valuable sideman. His latest album has little to do with country music but a lot to do with great playing and striking songwriting. It covers many bases that touch on numerous sources that he makes his own from the opening Conjuring which features a great vocal contribution from Sheila Lawrence, who along with Pru Clearwater add strong vocal contributions throughout. Other Nashville notables involved include ex-Derailer Mark Horn, David Jacques, Jen Gunderman, Joey Spampinato and Billy Block amongst others. The eclectic nature of the songs in this cases make the album more interesting rather than having any lack of focus. It is all held together by Mason’s defined and dignified vocals and playing. The songs touch on blues, vaudeville, gypsy music and range from songs like percus- sive Chano Pozo’s Shoes, a somewhat Waitsian The World Is Drunk, the sea shanty Pirate Song and the story telling of The Amazing Lorenzo which would actually makes sense to Chris De Burgh fans. This is a delight of Americana music and all the influences that were awash in that country a century or so ago.Tom Mason makes musical alchemy that delivers it’s magic and deserves a wider audience for its musical wonders.” - Stephen Rapid

Lonesome Highway

Tom Mason Actor and musician (or musician and actor), seems like an all-round good guy, living life to the full and keen for us to have some fun with him. He is one very fine guitar player and has got a cohort of familiar Nashville names to help out here - Jen Gunderman, Dave Jacques and Mark Horn of The Derailers amongst them. A joyful melange of American sounds from the modern country of I Surrender (as in, I could imagine Mary Chapin Carpenter singing it)to the Cuban rhythms of Chano Pozo's Shoes, Alchemy displays a familiarity with and love for all the rich veins of twentieth century American music. Lyrically, there's a lot of unembarrassed hokum here, from the faux-voodoo of Conjurin' to the fakest of fake shiver-me-timbers accents for Pirate Song. This has a cheerful chorus of 'We'll all go down, we'll all go down with the ship' and I saw Tom Mason perform this when I was in the company of a man whose boat had indeed sunk beneath him. It's a measure of the songs pantomine qualities that my companion just grimaced a little, then grinned. There's a loose theme of magic, myth and mystery going on here but Little Walter and Chano Pozo's Shoes are testament to Tom Mason's deep love affair wth music. Mostly it's all about as serious as Kirsty McColl's 'In These Shoes?'. What is unusual for an Americana record is that songs are frequently extended with long instrumental developments that are absolutely the best reason for getting hold of this cd. Always interesting and coloured by some lovely guitar work from the man himself there is never a sense of these passages rambling on aimlessly but, rather, a strong sense of the thread of the song hanging in the air with all the musicians dancing around it before coming back to the original tune. The Clown falls Down and Stealing Stars are both particularly fine examples of what these guys can do and make you feel that an evening listening to them play would be an evening well spent. John Davy” - John (Biscuits & Gravy) Davy

This Magic Moment, (06/10/10) Somewhere in the twilight zone between Tom Waits and Kid Creole & his Coconuts there's lots of room for rocky, bluesy Vaudevillians like Nashville's Tom Mason. Mason is a raconteur in the '30s cabaret tradition, where Brecht & Weill met the Ringling Bros & Barnum and Bailey. Absolutely not your average Nashville singer/songwriter, but rather one who could have penned "Sympathy for the Devil," that's close to his style of epic storytelling. The liner notes of the CD proclaim: "13 extraordinary tales of conjurors, healers, virtuosos, pirates, lovers, and sojourners! Marvel at the mysterious melodies performed by the most amazing musicians in the world! Every time I've seen Tom wandering somewhere in my hometown he'd be showing another side. I remember him playing trombone with Peter Cooper at the Tomato Fest in 2007. He's been on tour in Europe as lead guitarist for Phil Lee, a position he also filled in Eric Brace's band Last Train Home. He toured as an actor with the Broadway show "Ring Of Fire," and I missed him by a hair when he starred in a vaudeville version of Shakespeare's "Richard III" in front of the Parthenon in our Centennial Park. I've been taking along Alchemy on my recent drives through monsoon-ed middle Tennessee, and consequently I lost the beautiful CD booklet in some coffee-shop down the road. Please bring it back! It contains all lyrics, from which I anticipated to quote liberally. Tom's beautiful Aussie wife Pru Clearwater (what a handsome couple!) designed a bunch of great mysterious pictures featuring Tom and characters from the album, like Dizzy Gillespie's percussionist Chano Pozo who got killed when he failed to settle a drug debt despite the cash in the shoes he died in; a gypsy woman wreaking havoc on rural Mississippi river towns; a Shakespearean actor whose love for the bottle leads to a gig as a sad clown; and the CD's central figure Amazing Lorenzo, a magician whose beautiful assistant is made to disappear but who he fails to bring back into reality. I take it that his "Stealing Stars from the Sky" is dedicated to Tom's very princes Pru. Where Berthold Brecht introduces "Pirate Jenny" in the "Dreigroschenoper (the Three Penny Opera)," Tom presents his own buccaneer highlight, "Pirate Song." Jen Gunderman's accordion drowns seamlessly in the Jacques Brel chansonian autumn. Well, Tom's songs may not be as mesmerizing as the three-minute-jewels of Jacques Brell or as fired up by Scott Walker or Dusty Springfield, but seldom have I heard an album that entertains as much as Dylan's Broadway-musical "The Times They Are-A Changing." Great tunes for dancing, too. Maybe Barry Manilow should turn to "Alchemy" to find the song he never found to follow "Copacobana." Come on, Deborah, let's dance the mambo in "Chano Pozo's Shoes. The "Alchemist" himself plays all guitar parts: the dobro, the trombone, the mandolin and the simpler accordion parts. The more elaborate accordion parts are by Jen Gunderma who played with the Jayhawks and teaches Rock and Roll History at Vanderbilt University. The cast also includes drummer Craig Wright(Steve Earle) and bassists David Jacques (John Prine) and Joey Spampinato of NRBQ fame. There's also a few songs with The Big Happy, a band I first saw at my first July 4 celebration, consisting of two couples: Billy and Jill Block and Pru and Tom. I don't know how to sell this album to y'all, but play it once, and you keep playing it! Saturday night's going to be a great night out. We're going to see El Mason play most of his album at the Rutledge. And then we'll play the album again on the way home. PS: Saturday night I went to see Tom perform the album Alchemy live at the Rutledge in Nashville. A great show, very entertaining, from the first note till the encore. Tom had a great time, and so did we. When I left, I finally realized what I didn't like in my review of the album. I missed the word "brilliant." Tom's show was brilliant, and so is his album. Check it out. This guy is different, entertaining AND brilliant!” - Evert Wilbrink

FolkWax Magazine

On the back side of the liner notes, "Renaissance Man" Tom Mason presents the following description of A Slide Guitar Christmas: "Sizzling side guitar! Exotic rhythms! Dazzling dobro!" That about says it all--Tom Mason breaks loose in mighty fine fashion on this instrumental holiday album. Very, very nice. The holiday music market already includes oodles of acoustic guitar instrumentals, but Mason's release is different. Not the quiet reverence of acoustic or classical guitar, Mason wails on slide guitar and dobro, which are the stars here. The accompanying percussive touches and bass flourishes provide great support and creative context. These ten tracks are consistently lovely; the music is vibrant, but relatively low-key. A Slide Guitar Christmas opens with a syncopated, salsa-licious We Three Kings. It was the perfect eye-opener on a cold Halloween night--energizing, but nothing brutal. Not surprisingly, Drummer Boy is drum intensive; the track includes a bluesy edge and sweetly shifting beats. In fact, most tracks present the unexpected, often flexibly flying around a Latin Christmas tree, and the exotic vibes are naturally addictive. For me, less is sometimes more, making Mason's minimalist Joy to the World a gentle, moving delight, and the brief, bongo-fied Silent Night equally fun. Everything on A Slide Guitar Christmas should put a smile on the face of most holiday music aficionados. Unfortunately, the smiling fades after only 35 minutes, when the "sizzling slide guitar," "exotic rhythms," and "dazzling dobro" fade away. Even so, Tom Mason's instrumental interpretations are exquisite for the duration. --Carol Swanson (Reviewed in 2009) More From the liner notes: Recorded at Blue Bourbon Music, Nashville, by Jerry Hager Tom Mason: Dobro, Guitar, Accordion & Trombone Craig Wright: Drums & Percussion Matt Jackson: Electric & Acoustic Bass Lonesome Bob: Bongos on "Silent Night" What Child Is This?" and "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" recorded by Eliot Houser & Craig Wright, with Tom Comet: Bass Kami Lyle: Trumpet Joey Spampinato: Saxamaphone” - Carol Swanson

Top Pick: "Tom Mason Blends Blues, Theater for Stellar Show” “Tom Mason plays terrific guitar and bad trombone, and manages to make each of those things pretty entertaining. ... a show that should combine his flair for theater and his love of bluesy roots music. He’ll play slide guitar, sing plenty of well-written songs, change costumes at some point in the evening, and, yep, growl away on that trombone.”” - Peter Cooper


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