Monday, January 29, 2018

Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers Big Road

Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers
Big Road
Juicy Juju Records/ Vizztone Records

The sophomore album by the Boston-based Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers brings together more small band adaptations of vintage blues classics along with some rock-oriented and world music tinged originals. Along with her vocals, guitar, washboard and percussion, she is joined by her husband Jim Countryman on bass, Matt 'Charles' Prozialeck on harmonicas and Matt 'Charles' Prozialeck on drum kit and percussion.

Harpe is a wonderful singer and a superb traditional blues guitarist who has shown an affinity on for delta blues and Memphis blues, although to these ears, not everything is completely successful here. The opening rendition of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Kokomo," is a solid performance, if too arranged with a tad too much amplification for these ears. Harpe takes credit for "Lonely Leavin' Town," a strong adaptation of some delta blues lyrics followed by a choppy "Big Road Blues," well sung but this writer prefer's Canned Heat's rendition. Canned Heat used an arrangement adapted from Poor Willie Lofton's "Dark Road Blues." The rhythm section on these two tracks come across to these ears as slightly mechanical.

Better to these ears is a marvelous acoustic interpretation of Mississippi John Hurt's "Frankie," with agile, deft guitar, honey vocal and nice supporting harmonica. It is followed by a cover of Slim Harpo "Shake You Hips," that becomes an extended jam and is the longest selection here. John Hurt is also the source for "Casey Jones, another acoustic performance with drums added and once again Prozialeck stands out on harmonica and Harpe sings strongly. A solid band blues "Voodoo Blues," is nicely performed before another adaptation of traditional blues, "Stop and Listen," which is based to some extent on the Mississippi Sheiks classic, follows and is taken at a breakneck clip mixing lyrics from Cannon Jug Stompers' "Viola Lee Blues" with the Sheiks classic.

A terrific acoustic rendition of Randy Newman's "Guilty," is followed by the closing "Gimme That Somethin' Special," a funky jam that displays her impressive guitar playing in a slightly different setting along with more strong singing. "Big Road" is an intriguing mix of material and musical style. There is some very fine music mixed in with interesting, if to these ears less compelling, music. It does certainly merit attention from blues and roots music lovers.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here they perform Lonely Leavin' Town Blues."

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