Wednesday, April 25, 2012

West Of Memphis Bakes Splendid Musical Honey Pie

Comprised of vocalist-harmonica player Karl Cabbage and guitarist Tom Walpole, and various sidemen, West of Memphis is a blues band hailing from San Diego. The band’s name stems from the fact that when Cabbage was stationed at a Naval base forty miles West of Memphis, he hitchhiked to busk and play harp on Beale Street and catch various blues heroes. The band was formed in 1999 and actual has been holding down a weekend gig at San Diego’s House of Blues since early 2006. Yes, imagine a House of Blues having a regular gig by a blues band.

They have just issued their second cd, Honey Pie, produced in Montreal by one of a superb Canadian harp players Bharath Rajakumar and this recording certainly will please fans of jumping Chicago styled-blues. There is a nice variety of material including solid remakes of songs from Jimmy Rogers (Back Door Friend and That’s All Right), Little Walter (Who and I Got to Go), Muddy Waters (Crosseyed Cat), and Johnny Young (I’m Having a Ball), along with solid idiomatic originals like Canary in Her Cage, the title track and Cell Phone Blues.

One would be hard-pressed to fine any tracks that stand-out as everything is done so nicely.They do a solid straight cover of Willie Dixon’s I’m Ready with I assume Walpole is the one ably handling the vocals while Cabbage takes a solid chromatic solo, while Cabbage handles the vocal mike on the Little Walter interpretations and Johnny Young’s exuberant I’m Having a Ball on which Bharath showcases his formidable harp playing. One of the originals Cell Phone Blues is preceded by a call from the song’s co-writer Geoff Starin, before Cabbage opens the song with some blasting harp as he tells his woman to close her cell phone baby, because “he don’t love you like I do.” Some great guitar from Walpole in a Junior Watson vein while the pianist, M. Gagnon helps supply the bottom with his strong two-handed playing (as he does throughout this disc).

Bharath takes the vocal on That’s Alright, where Cabbage plays some nice harp in the vein of Sonny Boy Williamson II. Miss Sugarpuss Boogie is a crisp feature for Walpole’s guitar that comes across as a fifties’ styled number. The closing shuffle. Chupacabra, is a hot harmonica duet by Bharath and Cabbage that ends a strongly appealing disc.

I likely received my review copy from a publicist for the release. The review originally appeared in the January 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 300).

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