West Coast Toast
Scott Dirks, in his brief liner notes to the new Mitch Kashmar album "West Coast Toast," observes that if Chicago was home and proving ground for many legends of blues harmonica, the move to the West Coast of pioneer George 'Harmonica' Smith led to his presence influencing a whole generation and new off-shoot of the blues harmonica sound. The result was the 'West Coast Sound,' which he describes as "a hard-swinging, sophisticated and distinctly different offshoot of the amplified harp sounds familiar in Chicago." Kashmar is described as one of the handful of masters of this California sound, bringing his unique voice as a harpist and a soulful singer, on a release tipping his hat to the West Coast blues legacy with select covers mixed in with his originals.
An opening instrumental, "East of 82nd Street," establishes Kashmar's fat tone and imaginative playing in this tradition, along with the solid studio band of Junior Watson on guitar, Fred Kaplan on keyboards, Bill Stuve on the bass and Marty Dodson on drums. Watson gets to showcase his chops as well in a short break and his comping under the leader's dynamic playing. Kashmar's abilities as a vocalist are established by a cover of Willie Dixon's "Too Many Cooks" (some will be familiar from Robert Cray's cover more than Jesse Fortune's original), with Kaplan laying down an intriguing solo. It is followed by a capable rendition of an old Little Willie John recording, "Young Girl," with a backing and harp evocative of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me."
The tempo picks up on the topical original, "The Petroleum Blues," a rocking performance where he sings about "how much money are we gonna lose," and then slows down on "Mood Indica," with his fat, juicy playing set against Kaplan pounding the 88s, who along with Watson get to take choice solos while Stuve and Dodson push the groove forward. The is an appealing shuffle rendition of Billy Boy Arnold's "Don't Stay Out All Night," while Kashmar on "My Lil' Stumptown Shack," shows he able to construct an original that captures the flavor of classic 50's Chicago blues.
Kashmar's interpretation of John Lee 'Sonny Boy' Williamson's "Alcohol Blues," is nicely played and followed by an easy rocking version of lesser known Lowell Fulson song, "Love Grows Cold," with explosive guitar by Watson. The jazz-tinged instrumental "Canoodlin'," has a late night feel to it and closes a set of strong blues performances.
I received my review copy from Delta Groove. Here is a promotional video for this recording.