Midnight Road, the ten song debut from Arizona blues rock band Mason, will restore a little faith that great rock bands are still possible. This isn’t simply some regurgitation of a moribund form; instead, Midnight Road’s songwriting bristles with authenticity, passion, and genuine inventiveness. Music styles are only as limited as the musicians playing it and, in Mason’s hands, heavy blues rock gets the sort of treatment it rightly deserves. Instead of simply relying competently executing a basketful of clichés and hoping to draw audiences in desperate to hear this sound in an age of EDM, pop country, and hip hop, Mason embrace the challenge of competing, however indirectly, with those opposing styles and come up with aces for their time and trouble. This is a release with substantive musical value, grit and gravitas in equal measure, and conveys a strong personality that marks out territory for itself from imitation and pandering towards the lowest common denominator.
The semi-funny opener “Rockstar Paperboy” has a delightfully screwy personality fueling its performance that never feels forced or laid on too thick. The vocal complements the musical arrangement quite well and Acosta’s ability to sound unfettered and unhinged, belting out the lyrics at near rant level, gives this track reams of personality. “Shackle Caster” is a much more conventional blues rock outing than the opener and comes barreling out of the speakers with strength and brashness to burn. This is an explosive performance, like many on Midnight Road, bit it never abandons its artfulness in favor of simply turning out an assortment of blues rock poses. Mason goes in for a bucket of blood blues flavor on the slowly evolving, nuanced “I Bet You Know” and wring every drop of drama from the arrangement. Acosta’s vocals stand out once again thanks to his ability to put over the visceral, white-knuckled passion this music demands.
The vocals are one of the obvious strengths of “She’s a Little” and Acosta’s lyrical guitar work is a good match with the performance. The warm sound of his six string is one of the defining attributes of this track and gives a distinctly different touch to the song in comparison to the tracks preceding and following this number. The churning guitars and hard-hitting, rhythmically astute drumming powering “The Way You Used To” is quite exceptional and Acosta’s vocal ties itself closely to the guitar lines for a memorable result. None of the songs on Midnight Road sink into self indulgence and maintain a withering focus; few remain as locked on their goals as this track. “Fast Train” doesn’t go for the obvious move and serve up some mindlessly uptempo blues burner. Instead, the shuffle tempo keeping it moving bubbles over with an assortment of stylish bluesy touches and a great use of space that allows the track to breathe. Unlike some people turning their attentions to this form, Mason never tries to fill every second with some sort of musical pyrotechnics and the album benefits from that decision. The title track concludes Midnight Road with an equally stylish exclamation point and intelligent songwriting illustrating the album’s core value – these ten songs are never just bluesy invocations of a past that the band has no line on, but rather is a superb reinvention of the genre’s power and musicality.
by Lydia Hillenburg