Written by James Killen

magnoliacitycdcoverJohn Egan is a troubadour in the true Houston blues tradition. He is a collector and virtuoso of vintage resonator guitars and a blues song writer of note. His latest disc, “Magnolia City”, is by far his best produced and most significant contribution to our musical tradition here in Houston to date. The resonator is inherently an eerie purveyor of the blues and John’s voice on this disc mirrors the sound of his instrument.

The disc starts out with a cover of Lightning Hopkins’ “Once a Gambler”. John’s vocal intonation raises the very spirit of Lightning while his picking and slide style strikes home in the same way. He follows “Gambler” with his own composition, “Harder Than a Stone”. This eerie folk blues tune cuts as deeply as the traditional tunes that he covers.

John continues to show his own writing genius on “Looking for a Place to Fall” about a self-centered man that realizes that he has been so caught up in his own persona that he has bypassed real love by his side. The line “Like a feather from an angel’s wing looking for a place to fall” displays his capability for lyrical imagery. He follows that with what is likely my favorite version of Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”. I always felt like Dylan played the song as if he were stuck in a situation of subservience that he wished that he could escape. Egan plays it with a resolute resignation from the situation. Dylan wishes that he didn’t have “to work on Maggie’s Farm No More.” Egan expresses firmly that “He Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More” and with a lively guitar resonator strumming and finger picking style that he is done with workplace abuse.

In another personal composition, “It Ain’t the Gun that Kills”, John expresses his own belief on firearm dangers and responsibilities, placing the blame firmly on the wielder of the gun for the result of the regrettable actions that often accompany gun ownership. Egan, once again, visits the repertoire of Houston blues giant, Lightning Hopkins, for “Mojo Hand”, featuring an aggressive blues progression and a mystical voodoo talisman, in a love/regret ballad.

magnoiacitybackWith one more cover ballad for the record, John sings Townes Van Zandt’s story, “Marie”, of a homeless couple and the hardships involved in the homeless lifestyle and the hopelessness that overshadows it. Egan rocks it a bit with “Where Angels Fly”. The guitar licks seem to recall images from Jimi Hendrix most bluesy guitar stylings.

Following that rocking intermission, Egan tells of the regret of being in a relationship where he can never meet the expectations of his partner. Despite his efforts, the narrator cannot live up to the standards of “The Man I Will Never Be”, singing “ain’t it clear you can still have me”, accentuated by poignant harmonics. John closes this blues tribute with his own Lightning Hopkins style, “Midnight Raven Blues”.

If you want to grab a piece of contemporary Houston blues, this is the disc for you. It is by far the best production to come from John Egan’s portfolio. It reaches back with an appropriate spooky effect that brings the ghosts of Houston blues to the forefront. This one CD lived in my player for well over a week, and it wants to spend some time in yours.