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In a world were easy labels and generic pigeon-holes still seem important to many people, the terms “Outsider Americana” and “Chicagoana,” not my terms but the artist’s own musical shorthand, are both perfectly apt for what this veteran singer-songwriter does. And what he does is blend folk, blues and rock ’n’ roll together into sassy slices of home-spun American music. And if his riotous rhythms and bluesy blends suggest a distinctly blue-collar vibe, the soundtrack of the working man, the daily grinding of pounding the grim streets, it is because Felten is the embodiment of everything that those terms conjure, a hard working everyman, even opting to release his music on his own Landfill record label.
Fast Mikey Blue Eyes is a collection of stories of Chicago’s streets and the characters who lurk there, it the score to a hundred bars and a thousand tales, a musical map of the city complete with lyrical notation and an accompanying soundtrack to play as you wander along in Mike Felten’s footsteps. “Three Drinks In” is the perfect opening sonic salvo, infectious, incendiary, bluesy grooves urged on by honky-tonk piano, and which finds the narrator leaning on a bar at a crossroads between doing the right thing and ordering another drink.
There is room for sultry, hard-edged R&B with “Dead Old Girlfriend”, good rocking, walking bass blues as “A Girl Walks Into A Bar” and some wonderfully stomping, clattering, no nonsense blues-punk as we get to walk with “Godzilla Jones”. “Chasing A Rumour” is a reminder of blues’ acoustic, street corner, busker roots and “Where The White Lady Lives” is a raw-edged,12-bar, rock and roll gutter anthem.
Mike Felten makes music which is passionate, raw and honest. He is a teller of tales, usually dark narratives from the dark underbelly of the city that he has called home for most of his life. But it is such stories that he seems to revel in, no time for sonic gimmicks or studio tricks, this is the sound of the bar room band, the impromptu jam, the man playing for his keep, the musical hustler just trying to get by – music made for all the right reasons.
Chicago is a great place to visit, especially if you find yourself heading off the beaten track and into some of its dark, musical corners and seedier watering holes, and if you manage to do that, Fast Mickey Blue Eyes is the perfect sound track to such an adventure.
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