John Fusco Crafts ‘Cowboy Pictures,’ Returns to His Roots with Borderlands
John Fusco’s third album, Borderlands, produced by George Walker Petit, takes the listener on a journey with every song. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, Fusco is a storyteller – and a screenwriter at that – perhaps best known for “Young Guns,” the guitar-lover staple “Crossroads” and most recently “Marco Polo” on Netflix. Each song can stand alone as a short film. You can visualize the characters and escape into the mood and groove of the American West, the Southwest in particular (hence the album’s title).
The album kicks off with “Coyote Man,” which could be the theme for a modern Western starring Chris Helmsworth. The song’s imagery lends itself to a soundtrack so well it practically serves as a pitch, and I’m all in, wanting to know where the road takes this leading man. Connor Young’s trumpet and Stuart Paton’s congas also help paint the picture. The song has shades of “Superfly,” mixing the soul of Curtis Mayfield with the gravelly blues of Gov’t Mule. Petit really brings this track home with his mind-blowing, melodic stand-up bass runs.
“Dance of the Seven Veils” takes the listener to the border. You can practically smell the tequila and visualize Salma Hayek moving her hips and picture Rio Hondo John “preaching against the house of sin.” Petit’s tasty guitar licks are reminiscent of Mark Knopfler and Mike Bloomfield.
Fusco may be a storyteller, but he’s also done a lot of living, playing keys with blues bands and trying to make a go of it at a young age, touring the south and playing at dirty nightclubs on the wrong side of town. He’s returning to his roots with Borderlands, and he does so by also paying tribute to his influences. Listening to tracks such as “Bad Luck Rides Shotgun” and “Cyanide Whiskey,” it’s no wonder why Fusco recently performed a Greg Allman tribute in Essex, Vermont (not far from Petitjazz Studio, where the album was recorded). The 7-minute slow blues “Cyanide” is my personal favorite on the album. The Allman Brothers influence is unmistakable and tasteful. It reminds me a little of “Stormy Monday,” and I credit this to Fusco’s gritty vocals and Matthew Backer’s captivating, complimentary slide work.
The album ventures into decadent and depraved territories and also rides into sentimental avenues with “Cowboy Picture,” a father-son love song romanticizing the Western way, including Western pop culture (“Come on, let’s ride the high country like Bobby Duvall and Tommy Lee”). Then there’s the fast-paced, irresistibly fun bluegrass tune “Run, Rez Dog, Run” that instantly transports you to a hootenanny. Patrick Richard Ross shows off his chops here on fiddle and mandolin. It makes me want to pick up my guitar and join in or grab my wife and start dancing.
Like many Westerns, the album ends on a somber note, as Fusco croons the traditional “Ain’t No Grave” with haunting background vocals by Ashley Betton. It’s a fitting finale; still, you want more. And, fortunately – knowing Fusco – there’s a lot more where that came from.
Borderlands releases Friday, Oct. 21 on Rocket88 Records.
Order the music here: https://lnk.fu.ga/johnfusco_borderlands
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Video Premiere: John Fusco “Coyote Man”
The album was produced, engineered, mixed, arranged and by George Walker Petit, with additional engineering by Ben Collette.
Musicians on the album are John Fusco on vocals, piano and Hammond B3; George Walker Petit on guitar, bass, percussion and ocarina; Russ Lawton on drums; Matthew Backer on slide and dobro; Patrick Richard Ross on fiddle, mandolin and backing vocals; Ashley Betton on backing vocals; Jane Boxall on marimba; Stuart Paton on congas; Connor Young on trumpet; and Michael Hartigan on accordion.