Monday, September 28, 2009

Chicago Blues Harmonica Project showcases Rare Blues Gems

This review appeared in Jazz & Blues Report (July 2009, Issue 318). I have made a few minor wording changes.

Severn Records has followed up its prior release of lesser known Chicago Blues Harmonica Players, Chicago Blues Harmonica Project: Diamonds in the Rough with "More Rare Gems.” Its another collection of lively performances by a variety of lesser known harp players who continue to ply their trade in the clubs and bars of the Windy City. Once again the backing band is The Chicago Blues Masters: guitarists Rick Kreher and Illinois Slim; pianist Mark Brumbach; bassist E.G.McDaniel and drummer Twist Turner who provide solid idiomatic traditionally oriented backing throughout.

Seven performers are heard on this collection, some who come off stronger than others but all are entertaining. Reginald Cooper opens with a strong vocal on his rendition of a Z.Z. Hill recording, “Shade Tree Mechanic,” with a simple harp solo that rides the disc out. His other performance reworks Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Give Me Back That Wig,” with the band giving the song a Muddy Waters styled flavor with more harp.He is a particularly expressive vocalist and his harp adds solid flavoring to these performances. Charlie Love really tears into his harp at the beginning of the extroverted and rollicking shuffle rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Ooh Baby, Hold Me.” His vocal perhaps is a bit melodramatic on the cover of Elmore James’ “Twelve Year Old Boy,” although the track sports more fine harp. What is interesting is that Love is known as a guitarist so he likely could put together an interesting album.

Harmonica Hinds has recorded with Koko Taylor several years and has several self-produced albums. His harp playing is his strength as displayed on his original, “Kill That Mouse,” but his gruff vocals suffers from a somewhat stiff delivery despite his obvious enthusiasm, The instrumental shuffle, “Sunday Morning Blues,” displays his musical strengths. The recordings by the late Little Arthur Duncan, perhaps the best known of those heard here, were his last and he turns in capable performances of “Can’t Stand It No More,” derived from Little Walter’s “Hate to See You Go,” and Muddy Waters’ “Gone to Main Street.”

Jeff Taylor handles the vocal on “Gangster of Love,” derived from a funkier uptempo spin that Johnny Guitar Watson gave the number from the seventies on. Russ Green’s superb harp accompaniment helps make this performance one of the top ones here. Taylor takes up the harp for his rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do,” with his effective playing evoking Reed’s simple harp style and kudos for whichever guitarist is adding the nice fills. Big D is in his 20s, but his rendition of Slim Harpo’s “I’ve Got to Be With You Tonight,” shows a maturity in his relaxed vocal and smooth playing. It rounds a generally second sampling of lesser known Chicago harp players who have plenty to offer fans of Chicago and harmonica blues.

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