By the time Wayne Baker Brooks released his debut album, he had played the blues in Lonnie Brooks' band for almost 15 years, served as a roadie for two years before that, and led his own band for seven years (in addition to still playing with his dad). Clearly, he did not rush into a recording career. Instead, he paid his dues and took the time to find his own voice: a course a less savvy bluesman might not have made, especially considering Brooks' family legacy. It was a wise decision, because Mystery is not just a strong debut, it's a fully formed new vision that updates the sound of the blues without falling into the same tired blues-rock clichés. Instead, Brooks adds some soul, funk, and even a little hip-hop to his solid blues foundation and comes up with a great set of all-original tunes.
Right from the opening title cut, you know this isn't your standard blues album. It opens with a tremoloed Fender Rhodes vamp with an acoustic rhythm guitar doing one thing in one ear and an electric doing something else in the other. And, are those turntables in the mix?! Yep, but it's a subtle touch like so many others throughout the album (and they're judiciously used on just two cuts). Brooks is a strong, soulful singer; he's got a big, meaty Gibson tone; and his solos often don't go where you're expecting them to. The production is crisp without being slick, and it's got a nice open mix. Brooks knew what he wanted from the tunes, and his arrangements are impressive. Hammond here, Clavinet there, horns on a couple tracks, some tasty slide, and well-done backing vocals all add variety, but Brooks' singing and guitar playing are always the focus. He's equally at home on uptempo numbers ("Sooner or Later," "It Don't Work Like That") as he is on the slower numbers like the soulful "Exiled." He brings a bit of the funk to "Baby Stop," and "Nu Kinda Blues" is just what it says with its pumping bass, scratching, and killer harmonica playing over a ZZ Top-style groove. But despite these additional influences, Brooks is a bluesman to the core, albeit a very modern one, and that becomes clear every time he starts playing his guitar (and check out the exchanges with Lonnie on "It Don't Work Like That"). Mystery is not just a great album; it marks Wayne Baker Brooks as someone to keep an eye on as the blues enter the 21st century. As Wayne himself said, "Blues purists might not get my music but blues has to breathe fresh air sometimes." Amen to that.