Danny Brooks and Lil’ Miss Debi
Are You Ready? The Mississippi Sessions
Review by John Taylor
Part memoir, part altar call, Danny Brooks and Lil’ Miss Debi’s “Are You Ready? The Mississippi Sessions” is a masterful work that’s timely, yet timeless. Like a favorite Bible verse, it’s one you’ll want to turn to more than once — it’s salve for the soul in an anxious age.
Joined by an impressive collection of backing musicians, the 69-year-old “Texassippi Soul Man” has produced a 20-song album that revisits familiar sounds and places with the wisdom of a man who’s traveled far, learned much and now sees things from a hard-won perspective.
Summoning revival-style gospel, harmonica-rich Mississippi country blues, a little downtown Memphis style and some smooth slide guitar work, Brooks offers encouragement to the sinner, comfort to the weary and warnings to those who would take love for granted.
As the note introducing the title song puts it: “Life can be brutal at times and beautiful at other times. It’s what we make it, in spite of being dealt a bad hand. Life comes at everybody like a freight train, it does not pick favorites. There is no easy way out, but there is peace for those that seek it.”
The playlist further underscores the point.
“I know I’m not a righteous man,” he sings on “Climb That Mountain,” “but sinners need help, too.”
Other songs – “We Do Whatever It Takes,” “No Easy Way Out,” “Where Will You Stand?” and “The Battle” come to mind – also speak to truths Brooks has learned the hard way.
The Canada native has tight-roped between sin and salvation from his childhood days of reciting Scripture on street corners at his father’s bidding to a short-term prison stay in the 1970s. But these days, living in Llano, Texas, he’s made peace with his mistakes — and he’s made his decisions.
“You learn how to win when you know what it’s like to fall,” he adds on “Climb That Mountain.”
One of the more poignant moments on the album comes on “Angel From Montgomery.” It’s perhaps the most heartfelt and genuine rendition of John Prine’s classic since he released it back in 1971.
Recorded in Raymond, Mississippi – just outside Jackson – the band includes guitarists Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters and John Fannin, who formerly worked with Rusty Weir and Jerry Jeff Walker. Micah and Joel May comprise the rhythm section, James Lawlis plays horns and Geri O’Neil provides bass and background vocals. Chalmers Davis and Sam Brady round out the group, along with Professor Andrew Lewis, who mixes in keyboards on “We Do Whatever It Takes.”
Like Brooks and Lil’ Miss Debi, the versatile group can tighten up or ease off at will, but they remain consistent and true throughout the album.
And consistent and true might be the best two words to describe their overall effort here.
Total Time: 79:34
Are You Ready? / Jesus Had the Blues / Jamaica Sun / We Do Whatever It Takes” / Let Me Know / No Easy Way Out / Angel From Montgomery / Coming Home / One More Mile (to Mississippi) / Rock ‘n’ Roll Was the Baby / Where Will You Stand? / Hold on to Love / Broken / Climb That Mountain / Put a Little Rock ‘n’ Roll in Your Soul / Without Love / Me and Brownie McGhee / Tell Me About It / When I’m Holding You / The Battle