Acme Blues Company, a former Northern Virginia group that included harmonica player and vocalist Waverly Milor, once described themselves as 'Industrial Strength Blues." Such a description might be applied to Milor's present group, Hard Swimmin' Fish, also based in Northern and Central Virginia. Its other members are Demian Lewis on guitar, banjo and vocals, Randy Ball on bass, and Jason Walker on drums and percussion. On their latest self-produced album, they are supported by the organ of John Sharrar on one selection.
On their website, they describe themselves, "Hard Swimmin’ Fish is an ensemble deeply rooted in the traditions of American music. Our down home roots sound pilfers from the best that early American music has to offer including blues, jazz, funk and swing, and churn it all up into a spicy brew that is familiar yet uniquely our own." Listening to this latest release, one is struct by the blues center of the performances and the impressive ensemble playing that overshadows the instrumental solos which are quick and to the point.
The tenor of their sound is set with the insistent, machine-like groove of the opening title song as Milor gruffly delivers the lyrics of being a true believer tied to the stake with his overdubbed harmonica adding feel of the performance. Plenty of grit follows on "Five Years Hard Labor," with its chugging rhythm and his being let go from his job for his five years of hard labor and having his woman walk out the door. "Come Together" is not the Beatles number, but a Lewis original with him laying down some hot acoustic slide guitar set against a tight groove. Covers include a straight, rocking treatment of Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' For My Darling"; an atmospheric reworking of Little Willie John's classic "Need Your Love So Bad," with one of the nicest vocals on this and organ from Sharrar; and a warp speed rendition of the classic Ray Charles stomp "Mess Around."
A traditional gospel number, "Don't Let the Devil Ride" which segues into "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down,"closes out this latest release that perhaps exhibits why Hard Swimmin' Fish has been developing a following around Northern and Central Virginia and parts of Maryland.
Received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here Hard Swimmin' Fish perform "True Believer."