Steve Guyger - Past
Many blues harp player strive for an eldorado of the sound, a vintage
aspect despite the modern techniques of playing and recording. Often these inistatives end
up sounding like a washed-out copy, due mainly to the fact that it's the spirit of the
blues that made the pioneers sound good, not the letter...
Steve Guyger studied direct from some of the masters, there is no doubt
that this is where his heart lies, in the early post-war blues. But unlike others better
know on the blues scene, he understands the spirit of the style, not just the theory of
the playing. That is what makes his approach interesting, and in the end, that is why you
can find pleasure in listening to his records beyond the first time. I discovered Steve
through his album Last Train to Dover two years ago, an excellent
semi-acoustic release with double bass and electric guitar. A very nice and warm album
that I strongly recommend. He's back now with Past Life Blues, where he is surrounded by a
slightly more classic line-up of drums, double bass and guitar.
As soon as the first track, I Thought I Heard starts, it
sounds like we're amongst family : Live in the studio recording, ear-catching harp sound,
intimate instrumentation. Steve's musicians, by the way, are really top notch. The
guitarist in particular plays very fluid and inventive lines, which make his solos
Steve plays mostly amplified (unlike on Last Train to Dover
where he played essentially acoustic). His harp playing is very bare, he lets his phrases
breathe, his notes sound. He has a good grove and knows how to use amplification to give
his sound a specific color. It's interesting to note that although he is firmly rooted in
tradition his phrasing sound fresh. It isn't pre-processed canned stuff but the result of
well digested influences that have matured into a language of his own.
The choice of pieces is well thought over. Steve moves from beat-driven
pieces (in a relaxed kind of way) to first class rockers like Were Gonna
Ride on which he whips out his chro 64, and he's a mean chro player too ! A few slow
blues (I Tried So Hard, very Muddy Waters, or the excellent Bricks in My
Pillow, acoustic). The end of the record brings us in a slightly unusual territory :
Monkey on a Limb the one but last piece, very jazzymakes a change and wakes
the ear up.
If I had one criticism to make it would be that Steve Guyger's voice
isn't always solid enough to pull the songs through. At times he lacks the power and
precision to deliver the lyrics convincingly. It's a shame, because I really believe that
Steve is one of the top blues harp players on the scene today and really would deserve to
be better known. That being said, I still warmly recommend the purchase of this album (and
of the previous one). It'll make you rediscover blues harmonica if other 'predictable'
players had made you forget it.