Kurt Crandall mailed his new CD (I believe his fourth album to me), and after giving it a couple of spins, I checked out his website and discovered he is well-traveled as well as a seasoned performer. Currently living in the Richmond, Virginia area, Crandall has had stops in Kansas City, Washington D.C., Macon Georgia, Chicago, and Seattle. While living in Washington, he played with Jesse James & the Raiders, a band led by the late Jesse James Johnson, who played with Bo Diddley when the music legend lived in Washington.
Crandall has penned five original songs, and three instrumental. He also performs two covers. Two different bands back Crandall's harp and vocals. Guitarist Karl Angerer is on nine of the ten selections. There is a rhythm section of Bill Heid on piano, Aaron Binder on drums, and Rusty Farmer on upright bass on the first five tracks. On the other selections, Reid Doughten plays guitar on four songs with a rhythm section of Johnny Hott on drums, John Sheppard on electric bass, Clark Stern on piano, and Carl Bender on saxophones.
Crandall is a very appealing, unforced vocalist and a gifted harp player who at different times evokes William Clarke, Toots Thielemans, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Junior Wells. Crandall also crafts some very appealing songs filled with honesty and humor as he leads his musicians in a set that might be described as West Coast Swing, a fusion of classic Chicago blues, West Coast Jump Blues with a dash of Memphis blues blasters. Things kick off with the lively "Skedaddle," with some Williams Clarke-styled chromatic harp, swing band drumming from Binder, and a dazzling, jazz-inflected solo from Heid, who mixes the sophistication of a Teddy Wilson with Junior Mance's funky blues. Heid's piano also shines on "Early Bird Special," a humorous tune centered on food specials some restaurants direct at the elderly. Crandall's Toots Thielemans styled chromatic playing is exemplary. There is some splendid diatonic harp on "Razz My Berries," an easy swinging shuffle. Another instrumental, "Beignets and Coffee," sounds like a variation on "La Cucaracha." After Crandall's harp solo, Angerer quotes Ray Charle's "Mary Ann" in his sterling solo.
With his opening harp solo evoking the second Sonny Boy, Crandall does a solid cover of the Little Willie John hit, "Home at Last," on an arrangement based on Junior Wells version (titled "Country Girl"). This track is one of Doughten's guitar features, and he scintillates here. Musically "Go Without Saying" evokes classic Johnny Guitar Watson recordings with some slashing Angerer guitar and some relaxed singing in the manner of a Roy Milton. After evoking "Sloppy Drunk" while singing about his "Bull Headed Woman," Crandall musically reworks John Lee Williamson's "Blue Bird Blues" as well as modifies some of the lyrics changing references to Jackson, Tennessee to Macon, Georgia.
Another well-paced and played instrumental, "Sidecramp," caps an album that will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed the music of William Clarke, Rod Piazza, Mark Hummel, Little Charly Baty, James Harman, and others in the vein. Kurt Crandall certainly has hit a musical grand slam with this outstanding recording.
I received my review copy from Kurt. This review has appeared in the March-April 2022 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 401). I made a correction of Jesse James Johnson's name that was wrongly listed in that review. Here is a very recent video of Kurt Crandall performing.