Hazleton Standard-Speaker
Hazleton, PA
August 9, 1997
by L. A. Tarone

A review: Album is a kicker

How 'bout it — a folkie who doesn't whine! Yowzah!

In fact, not only doesn't John Cusatis whine, he kicks. Hey, there's an even bigger scoop — a folkie who kicks!

Actually, it's probably not fair to call Cusatis a folkie. While this album is acoustic guitar centered, this is definitely not your normal run-of-the-mill Indigo Girls whinny ''sensitive'' folk.

Cusatis not only has a kick and a bite the others don't, but he's got a great sharp wit and the heart of a street fighter. I guess it's all those gigs at Ron's Office Pub and The Golden Cue.

Cusatis calls his music ''barroom rock and roll.'' Yes, I know you're supposed to say that so you draw well in bars. But, there's considerable accuracy in that.

However, Cusatis draws from so many disparate styles, and combines them into a unique mix. It's tough to put any label on it.

APRIL DAYS lead off track is ''Reggae Bubba'' — barroom stuff with a zydeco touch and a reggae tinge. The girl background singers answer him in the chorus — ''people dey call me Bubba'' — in a dialect that screams ''Gullah!'' (the language slaves spoke in the south).

Lyrically, Cusatis's great wit is displayed proudly — ''Peter Tosh was my number one, I just can't get used to no Brooks and Dunn.''

The only sour note is the last verse, ''I shot a man in Trenchtown, just to watch him die.'' It just doesn't fit.

Musically, the tune's got a swing and a kick.

It's true reggae has little to do with either smoky bars or slave songs. But, here, the mix works. In fact, it's probably the stand out cut.

The alternate version, ''Reggae Bubba (Unplugged),'' works nearly as well but misses some of the kick.

''Stickman'' breezes along at 90 mph, but has an unmistaken melancholy tinge. It fits, because, lyrically, it's about trying to stay close to and hang around someone you love but can't have. The imagery is superb: ''I used to say if you can't embrace me, then why don't you just erase me, but I'd rather be a stickman, than no man at all.''

The title track starts off as gospel mountain music — ala the Carter Family — then takes off as a curious mixture of country and southern gospel. The lone flaw here is length. Five minutes, 20 seconds is too long.

The song 41 Market Street, an ode to a hot bar, starts with a menacing bass before turning into Bo Diddley meets Bob Marley. It's driven by Rob Posey's hot lead guitar work and features a neat sax solo from Lee Sanders.

Cusatis's sharp wit and sarcasm are again evident in Contemplative Man.

''I used to read Kafka and Ayn Rand (yes, someone else knows who she is and actually used her name in a song!!) too, Martin Heidegger and Albert Camus, But I'd much rather snuggle up with a bottle of brew, than with Madame Bovary or Catch 22.''

Or, how about, ''I've got no more time for Hamlet, he was too much of a thinker, But I still dig Ernest cause at least he was a drinker.''

Musically, it's almost like Hound Dog Taylor being played by a white guy on an acoustic guitar.

Couldn't Love You is old fashioned Floyd Tillman/Lefty Frizzell/Charlie Walker honky tonk, with a big shot of sarcasm, ''I couldn't love you as much as I do, if I didn't love drinkin' more.''

Pinball would be rather nondescript modern country — except for the shrewdly written lyrics about feeling helpless at the hand of fate.

Old Grandad is Cusatis's ode to booze, written as old-fashioned mountain music. Again, the wit is prominent: ''He's about a hundred, and that's proof . . . He'll take something awful, and make it seem 'not bad' .'' Again, the lone problem is excessive length. It's tough to justify a 5:21 drinking song.

No Mistake is apparently the most straightforward cut here. The totally acoustic love song features lyrics which are quite wistful if taken at face value, ''I decided love was man's invention, kept alive by convention.'' The ambiguity comes from the deadpan with which Cusatis delivers them. Is he serious? Hmmmmm.

Fred's Cafe is again modern country, with clever lyrics.

Dove Sounds is a quasi-new age acoustic instrumental. Frankly, its inclusion here seems pointless.

Maybe it's the fact that Cusatis draws on so many different styles that makes him more upbeat than you'd expect from a ''homegrown folkie.'' That also makes this album tough to describe.

How about, ''Neat!''

And worth hearing.

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