Mississippi native Arthur Duncan has been up in Chicago since the 1950s when he came north with Earl Hooker. Mentored by the legendary Little Walter, he has been part of the blues scene for most of the intervening five decades as a performer and as a club owner while working as a construction worker. Delmark previously issued his disc, Singing With the Sun, and now has a live performance on CD as well as on DVD (with a couple of extra songs included), Live at Rosa’s Blues Lounge.
This is an unpretentious set of somewhat raw, downhome flavored Chicago harp blues as Duncan mixes some originals with interesting covers. Duncan’s enthusiasm for performing is evident as he opens with an original Leaving Mississippi, before reworking Eugene Church’s Pretty Girl’s Everywhere, employing Slim Harpo’s Scratch My Back groove (and he also is seen/heard on that tune here). Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Slim Harpo and Howling Wolf covers mix in with Duncan’s Bad Reputation and Blues I Got to Leave You.
As entertaining as Duncan comes off, his harp playing is not on the level of a Little Walter or Carey Bell, and his earnest vocals perhaps lack the charisma of his influences, but still the performances are engaging aided by the solid backing of guitarists Rick Kreher and Illinois Slim, bassist Michael Azzi and drummer Twist Turner, who provide steady backing behind Duncan. Guest Little Al Thomas handles the vocal on Dr. Clayton’s I Got to Find My Baby.
The video on the DVD is really well done, keeping its focus on Duncan and his band as he sits and belts out his vocals and lays down his harp as well as captures his forays into the audience, encouraging the dancers and leading everybody on what was clearly a good time. Delmark continues to build its impressive catalog of live DVDs with this entertaining disc.
This review appeared originally in the February 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 301). I received a review copy from Delmark Records. Here is a video trailer for this DVD.