Album Review: Mojoike and Lady Val — Phoenix
Mojoike (or Magic Mojo Ike, as he’s also known) is a towering figure in the Miami blues scene. With his searing, passionate electric guitar work and his expressive voice, Ike packs plenty of emotional content into his original songs. Joined on Phoenix by vocalist Lady Val (Val Woods, aka Mrs. Ike), he packs a wallop with nine memorable tunes.
A pop sensibility pervades the set. Phoenix presents a blues-informed framework presented in a widely accessible style, with vocals out front, lead guitar playing a strong supportive role, and rock-solid instrumental backing at the core. A sense of optimism shines through all of the songs.
“Thank You Lord for Having Faith in Me” settles into a gospel groove, but the tune adds in the sonic character of a romantic slow-jam blues; the combination works seamlessly. A love song is a love song, after all. Lady Val turns in a passionate, bravura performance, and the backing chorus (Sister Mary Beth, Isaac Woods and JR Conner) is stellar.
“Get Along” is lyrically similar, but cut from very different musical cloth. An uncluttered chord structure gives the musical ensemble the opportunity to dig into the song’s grooves, underscoring the power of musical simplicity. Ike’s tasty guitar break is tantalizingly brief, leaving the listener wanting more.
The funkiest track on Phoenix is “Feel Like Super Man.” With a slinky urban blues feel, it’s a showpiece of understated swagger. Playful lyrics (example: “Our love is made out of steel”) add to the appeal of the tune, and Ike’s lean licks help the arrangement double down on the head-nodding vibe.
There’s a smoky Albert King feel to “Not for Rent.” Lady Val’s sensual, moaning vocal positively simmers. Ike’s heavily reverbed lead guitar solo ranks among the finest instrumental moments on the album. It’s easy to imagine the track transformed into an extended workout in a live setting, with Ike taking the opportunity to stretch out and dig in even more.
The album features two well-chose covers. “Big Boss Man” was a Jimmy Reed single in 1961, and the song was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1990. The version on Phoenix features a stomping beat and spirited backing vocals that give it the feel of a tent revival. Ike’s stinging lead licks take the song another place, and the combined effect is superb.
Phoenix also features a reading of Freddie Harris’ “New Children of the World.” Harris wrote the song when his son, steel pan player Freddie Harris III, was born. Ike’s version of the song focuses on the inspirational lyrics, and the arrangement subtly connects to the original through use of steel pan drums.
Taken as a whole, Phoenix is a collection of songs that showcases the stylistic variety of Mojoike and Lady Val. The tunes hold together as a unified whole, too.