“Spread a little joy to everyone”: That’s the refrain of the last track on Blue Sky, a collaborative effort between the Reverend Shawn Amos & the Brotherhood and the Mudbug Brass Band called “Keep the Faith, Have Some Fun.” That message of joy and togetherness might as well be the motto of the Reverend’s whole record.
The Reverend Shawn Amos has led many lives, including a stint in A&R in the ’90s and early 2000s and a career as an Americana-leaning solo artist and songwriter. But when he turned his attention to the blues, he drew a sharp distinction between his new persona and the three singer-songwriter albums he’d put out under the name Shawn Amos.
“When I first played blues, I had no interest in writing,” Amos says in a press release. “I put up a firewall between the Rev and my Americana past.”
Blue Sky sees that boundary relaxing a little, incorporating aspects of the storytelling skills he honed as a songwriter. The mid-tempo ballad “Her Letter” puts a spotlight on character development and evocative description. “The Pity and the Pain” offers cutting autobiographical introspection, wailing “California now reminds me of my own mortality,” in a look back to Amos’ childhood in 1970s Los Angeles.
The project offers a wide variety of tempos and moods to choose from, such as the rock-inflected, breezy album opener “Stranger Than Today” and the ska-tinged “Hold Back.” Even so, a rhythm-forward and rootsy sense of blues is the common thread throughout Blue Sky.
The Reverend really hits his stride with all-inclusive party jams, and all four of the songs on the album that feature guest artists are standout tracks. In fact, his community offers him a boost throughout Blue Sky, which is his first project credited to both Amos and his newly formed band, the Brotherhood.
Consisting of drummer Brady Blade (of Dave Matthews and Indigo Girls), bassist Christopher Thomas (Macy Gray and many more) and Amos’ longtime guitarist Chris “Doctor” Roberts, the Brotherhood boast a hefty musical CV between them. They’ve got plenty of experience with the Rev. himself, too, though their official billing as the Brotherhood adds another layer of musical solidarity to the group.
On Blue Sky, the meeting of the minds is self-evident. Amos and his all-star group take time to be playful and improvisatory, experimenting with mixing his songwriter side into their jam sessions. Still, at every refrain, they return into lockstep with the music — and with each other.