Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Swississippi's Amiable Chicago Blues

Swiss native Chris Harper left his business in his homeland to become immersed in traditional blues styles, and in conjunction with Dave Katzman, a Chicago music scene veteran, founded Swississippi, a label devoted primarily to record traditional blues artists who aren't being recorded. ‘Swississippi Chris Harper himself is among the featured performers on one of the label’s initial releases on “Four Aces and A Harp,” which has him with blues veterans Jimmy Burns, John Primer, Robert Stroger and Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, with Katzman, Little Frank Krakowski, and Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith appearing on various tracks in support. Half of this is recorded with acoustic backing and half with electric backing with vocals being shared by Harper, Burns, Primer and Big Eyes Smith with one from Tail Dragger.

This is an very pleasureable collection of performances, although of mostly familiar material from the opening electric moments of “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,” as Jimmy Burns emphatically delivers the song many know as “Look on Yonder’s Wall,” with nice slide guitar to Primer’s easy rendition of Rice Miller’s “Fattening Frogs For Snakes.” Harper showcases some adept harp playing whether in a Little Walter vein as on behind Willie Smith’s rendition of “Sloppy Style,” to the more intimate playing style Rice Miller often utilized on the closing number. Playing acoustically provides a different character to “I Smell Trouble,” that Burns sings so well. Harper sings in an affable manner with a jazzy inflection on his original “Blues is My Life,” with some nice piano backing from Marty Sammon, before a nice harp solo displaying a nice tone and musical imagination. Primer takes the able vocal on a shuffle rendition of Lightnin’ Hopkins “Mojo Hand,” with Peaches Staten adding rhythm on a washboard. Willie Smith’s revisits his “Born in Arkansas,” musically set to the “44 Blues” melody, which allows his country harp with Harper’s more modernistic playing. More of Harper’s playing, with some choice piano support from Arriyo, is featured on the lovely treatment of Duke Ellington’s, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” The rendition of the Muddy Waters recording “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” with Burns handling the vocal, benefits from the acoustic setting, almost a back porch feel, while Tail Dragger does his Wolf impersonation on “Evil is Going On.” Primer does a fine revival of Muddy’s “Long Distance Call,” although Harper’s accent is evident on his vocal on “Worried Life Blues,” credited here to John Estes, but still is an appealing, solid performance.

Overall, this is a collection of solid performances. Given the derivative quality of most of the material, this recording necessarily stands in the shadows of the originals, but still there is a congenial quality that makes for a very entertaining recording, although one would be hard-pressed to call this essential.

For FTC regulation purposes, this was received from publicist handling Swississippi Records.

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