A shining example that an elder statesman can revive a career and land a record deal by relentlessly playing the Southern California blues circuit, Mighty Mo Rodgers is a tribute to fortitude. That he has his first solo disc coming out Oct. 5 on Universal’s Blue Thumb imprint — a pickup of the album he self-released on North Star last year — is testimony to the power of his still-agile voice. Yet in the cluttered blues field, more time should have been spent fleshing out his topical yet unconvincing material.
Keyboardist-singer Rodgers is a Chicago native-turned-L.A. session musician who gave up on the music biz after his one brush with fame — penning “The Oogum Boogum Song” for Brenton Wood that became a KHJ staple in the mid-’60s. The ’60s, though, still permeate his material: In one song, “(Bring Back) Sweet Soul Music,” he’s treasuring James Carr’s “Dark End of the Street” and Otis Redding; on another, “The Kennedy Song,” he claims to be able to explain the JFK assassination and the missing 18 minutes on the Nixon tapes.
But while this could be an intriguing way to introduce social topicality to his soul-blues melodies, Rodgers, who teaches at-risk youths for the county, does so with a heavy-handedness that reaches a laughable extreme. He’s no Little Milton. In many of his songs — five tunes from the “Blues is My Wailin’ Wall” disc made it into Friday’s hourlong set — the notion that the blues are being presented is so self-conscious that everyone wishes the subject would be changed.
Blues, as the old song goes, is a feeling, and Rodgers’ band doesn’t quite have a handle on that either, further diminishing the quality of the presentation. On the “Wailin’ Wall” disc, Rodgers gets into more textures than he does live, though having a conga players does keep it lively. On the stage, though, his throaty baritone is the supplier of enjoyment; were he just a regional act letting his players stretch out on a handful of classics in addition to his originals, this would be a different story.