In your face Steve Baker & Abi Wallenstein - In your face

I had been looking forward to this live album from the highly talented Steve Baker, particularly in duet format, a format that makes the harmonica stand out. Abi Wallenstein adds a solid rhythm foundation, but his distinctive voice is somewhat unnatural and lacks in variation from beginning to end. Steve Baker does manage to throw in extremely well constructed choruses in a bright and airy style, clean, precise and energetic. He plays mostly amplified and his clear tone comes through on certain tracks in the consistently melodic choruses. The production and sound recording however are hopelessly inadequate. Agreed, a live album should sound "live" but this sounds more like a bootleg ! Listening to this album is quite simply frustrating and I would have liked to find here the depth of sound and raw energy that sometimes is missing in studio recordings. Yet this album, even though it is interesting musically has such poor sound quality that makes it very difficult to listen to...

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Cadi Jo Cadi Jo Blues Band - Blues au Comptoir

The CD cover says it all : we are going to hear some blues. The album opens up with an instrumental tribute to Big Walter showcasing some very serious tone and then moves on to swing, shuffle and other funky territories. CadiJo 's style is traditional and inspired, with constant and sublte changes in sounds and colors. The vocals in french appear however to be a more difficult excercice: the phrasing seems sometimes hesitant or a little unnatural. Surprinsingly, CadiJo is more at ease with english vocals, as showcased on the Slim Harpo and Sonny Boy Williamson II covers. In the end, this album is a classic-blues record a la francaise, respectfull of the blues tradition without getting trapped in it. CadiJo and the other members of the band definitely show that they're very capable musicians. More convincing vocals would be the icing on the cake: When is the next record ?

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Choo Choo Charlie Choo Choo Charlie - Harpin' my life away

"Choo-Choo" Charlie Williams is a blues harmonica player from Maryland. "Harpin' my life away" is his first album but you can hear that he's been playing bars and blues venues for a while. Though most tracks on this album are self penned, they fall fairly squarely in classic "harp-featuring" music styles, like Cajun/Zydeco, Boogie Woogie or  Chicago Blues. Charlie's band is efficient and his harp playing is good, although not very original. But then again, that's probably not the idea : "Harpin' my life away" isn't a musical revolution, it's just an enjoyable recording that aims at people who like to attend gigs at blues clubs without necessarily being specialists. - BF


More Gravy Collard Greens & Gravy - More Gravy

I had liked the debut album of Collard Greens and Gravy (the guys who work on revolutionising blues in the Australian Outback) so much that it seemed unlikely I could appreciate their second release as much. And I must say that despite its evident qualities, a strong drive, a sound as dark and raucous as ever and tasteful musicians, I didn't like "More Gravy" as much. Not that it's a bad album, far from it ! But it doesn't have as much space around the music as the previous one did, and is less intelligently structured : the first eight tracks are fast, rugged amplified pieces and don't let you breathe for a second. Only on track nine ("Gonna wait 'til a change come") do you hear an acoustic harp and on the track after that, you can finally relax on a slow tune (a vocal and harp solo bit in the grand tradition of SBW2 and Sugar Blue.) The end of the album is quite different in spirit and atmosphere, and allows the listener to relax a little. The final track "Goin" home" is quite superb and proves if need be that the (small) defects of this album are more due to production issues than they are to the talent and inspiration of the band, which remain intact. -BF

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Frogwings Frogwings - Croakin' at toads

This album is a strange one in many ways. "Frogwings" is a side project for many musicians of the Allman Brothers Band and for harmonica speedmonster John Popper. Considering the relative failure of John Popper's solo album "Zygote", I was apprehensive of this release yet curious at the line-up. At the end of the day, I like it a lot. This is Jam Rock at it's peak, a recording of eight live tracks averaging 7 minutes each. The atmosphere is quite Santana-esque with the main spotlight being Derek trucks and Jimmy Herring on guitars. Popper sings quite nicely and plays harp both as part of guitar and harp harmonies and as a solo instrument. His harp playing is competent and not very novel considering his musical past, but it's done well. The harp doesn't emerge very much in the mix though, so don't buy this record just for the harp playing. Buy it if you like Santana, the Allman Brothers and Jam Rock in general. - BF

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Claude Garden.jpg (2199 octets) Claude Garden - Garden Club

While most of the great chromatic harmonica players have specialized in one style of music, Claude Garden has a foot firmly in the camps of both the jazz and classical genres. With 'Garden Club' Claude demonstrates his very formidable jazz prowess with technique that will make even the most jaded harmonica player's head turn (check out the runs on 'I Feel Good'! and 'Summertime'). While giving the occasional stylistic nod to Toots, Claude expands the pallet of jazz as played on the chromatic with his frequent and skilful use of double stops and the many rich tonal colors he extracts from his CX-12. A collection of originals and fresh interpretations of standards, 'Garden Club' is a highly recommended addition to anyone's collection ! - PF

David Herzhaft David Herzhaft - Des mots d'harmo

The pun in the title of this CD ("Des mots d'harmo" means "Some Harp Words"
but can be read as "Harp Demo") is unfortunately an accurate description of the record's contents : it sounds like a very technical demo with musical content left on the side. David Herzhaft is a player who has a great technical mastery on the diatonic harmonica(although at times he tries to do things even he can't pull, thus outlining his technical limits.) The attempt to navigate between styles where the harmonica is usually not represented is great, but at the end does not work for lack of a real willingness to
integrate the harmonica sound in the idiom, as it has been done more succesfully by JJ Milteau, Mick Kinsella or Carlos del Junco. In the end, this album dissapoints by its very lack of musicality, and the feeling that the overpowering technique, if channeled towards music could produce great things...

  - BF

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G Love G. Love and Special Sauce - Electric Mile

  Electric Mile is G Love and Special Sauce's fifth album and, even though the harmonica has never been an essential part of their groovy mix of hip hop and ragga with blues and country influences, each of these albums featured harp on at least a few of tracks. Electric Mile is no exception. G Love's characteristic playing style (often 1st position, and quite reminiscent of Jimmy Reed or Lazy Lester) is apparent on several tracks including the infectiously groovy "Unified" that opens the album. The harp though is just the cherry on the cake of a groovy album which sees the Special Sauce expland its musical horizon in very interesting ways. -DC

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Christian Marsh.jpg (2605 octets)

Christian Marsh - The Sketch

On this, his second solo album, Christian Marsh again demonstrates not only why he is the top professional live and session harmonica player in Australia, but also that his abilities as a player are world class. "The Sketch" reflects his primary orientation as that of a jazz chromatic player with varying tastes, without forgetting his roots (and still often used talents) as a blues/rock diatonic player and his foray into world music. Christian could have walked the safe path and chosen some typical jazz standards for this album. Instead his desire to express his true musical leanings inspired him to draw on the talents of artist/composers such as Tom Scott ('Tom Cat', 'Shadows'), D.C. Santana ('Holiday'), Peter Gabriel ('Digging In The Dirt'), Sting ('Be Still My Beating Heart') and Argentinian accordionist Astor Piazzola ('Tanti Annie Prima'). The combination of the choice of numbers and Christian's laid-back, melodic and funky style has resulted in local music critics describing "The Sketch" as 'sophisticated smooth jazz come adult contemporary instrumental music'. Among the talented backing musicians is the internationally renowned drummer Chad Wackerman whose phenomenal skills are responsible for the rock and latin grooves that pervade the album. Born and bred in Australia, Christian's restricted exposure to other harmonica players forced him to find his own voice on the instrument . Although familiar with recordings by Magic Dick, Paul Butterfield, and Charlie McCoy in his early days, his biggest influences have been the professional musicians that he has worked with for many years and his jazz studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. As a result you hear on this album Christian's unique tone and approach to the music, avoiding cliched jazz harmonica runs and taking a more horn-like approach in his expression. This guy is definitely no Toots 'wannabe'!  - PF


Harry Pitch.jpg (2715 octets) Harry Pitch - Bossa meets Ballads

Having listened to the albums and live recordings that Harry has sent me over the years I took it for granted that 'Bossa meets Ballads' would be a very fine addition to my collection. As things turned out I was in for an unexpected treat! Recorded at a friend's home with a minidisc recorder being the only technology involved and accompanied by a lone pianist, Harry demonstrates the musical skills honed and perfected during 50 years as one of England's finest professional jazz harmonica (and trumpet) players. Harry's playing is the kind that I aspire towards. You don't notice the ease with which he uses his formidable technique because you're too preoccupied enjoying the great music. Even though Harry demonstrates a high level of mastery of his instrument, great technique, etc., etc., What makes the recording all the more impressive is that most of the tracks are first takes, and neither Harry nor John (the pianist) had met each other prior to the recording session. Just a discussion about how they'd begin and end each track and away they went. John is the kind of accompanist you only dare dream of, anticipating Harry's every musical move.  - PF

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Antonio Serrano.jpg (2196 octets) Antonio Serrano -

Of the many lessons Antonio Serrano learned as a protege of Larry Adler, it seems one of the most valuable that he took to heart was Larry's insistence that a player finds his own voice. Recorded live at Madrid's 'Café Central' jazz venue, this is a fine debut album for Antonio as he and the very able Joshua Edelman Trio traverse swing, blues, bolero, and bop. I really like his interpretation of 'Cuando Vuelva A Tu Lado'. A world class jazz chromatic player who has also appeared on the albums of many of Spain's best blues artists. I'm looking forward to Antonio's future recordings.  - PF

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Day Break.jpg (2340 octets) Nobuo Tokunaga - Day Break

Japan has produced a fine stable of world-class harmonica players in all musical styles, and jazz is no exception. One of the foremost exponents of jazz chromatic playing in that country is Nobuo Tokunaga who has just released his 3rd solo album 'Day Break'. Having learned most of his musical skills from his early training as a saxophonist, Tokunaga-san appears regularly around Japan as a soloist with everything from small jazz combos to full jazz orchestras, and has shared the stage and held his own with touring artists such as Pete Pedersen. On this album Tokunaga-san with bass , piano, and drums accompaniment gives us interpretations of 9 standards (Sunrise,Sunset/ My Cherie Amour/ Gentle Rain/ Summer Knows/ Softly As In A Morning Sunrise/ Bluesette/ What A Wonderful World/ Fly Me To The Moon/ The Days Of Wine And Roses) plus some modern Japanese compositions. He resists the temptation of leaning too far in the direction of 'cutting edge' jazz with his improvisational runs remaining simple, melodic, and leaving you wanting more.  - PF


Mitch Weiss.jpg (3660 octets) Mitch Weiss - Stompin' by myself

Mitch Weiss is one of the rare people who have decided that rather than choosing between diatonic and chromatic harps, they wanted the best of both worlds. Originally Mitch played Koch harmonicas and Slide Harps, and more recently he's upgraded to Brendan Power's CX-10s. "Stompin' by Myself" is a self-produced album that presents a blend of jazzy blues using the full chromaticity of these harps with the gutsy sound of amplified blues diatonic. It's both interesting and new, and the only downside to it is the backing "band" which isn't up to the professional level at which Mitch plays the harp. Still, a very interesting thing to listen to if you wanna hear what a 10 hole bendable Richter tuned chromatic allows !
- BF

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El Fish - A12

It is never easy to review a movie soundtrack without having seen the movie. In this case, A12 being a belgian movie that was only shown to audiences in Belgium with El Fish playing the soundtrack live, there was no chance to see both elsewhere. The soundtrack starts in a very cinematographic manner since it's made essentially of short atmospheric tracks . But from the middle of the record onwards, things change : We are treated to a superb jazz instrumental entitled "Monique", which shows that despite his blues roots, Steven de Bruyn has heard Toots play and has merged these two influences. This piece alone justifies hearing "A12", but there are several very good tracks to follow, including the very original "Intrede" which marries violin and harp in a gipsy rock atmosphere that's reminiscent of Emir Kusturica's No Smoking Band. For a first El Fish soundtrack, "A12" is rather a success and it brings them far from their native style with great effect !

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Mike Peloquin.jpg (3606 octets) Michael Peloquin - House of cards

Michael Peloquin belongs to this category of harp players that give a whole new meaning to words like jealousy : not only does he have a complete mastery of the most advanced techniques on the diatonic but seems perfectly at home when playing the chromatic; and if you ask him the (in)famous question that we've all heard way too many times "but what else do you play ?" he'll simply answer "the saxophone" without trying to show he doesn't know what you really mean. Add to this that he also sings and you'll have an idea of what you'll find on "House of cards", hist first solo release. Horns lovers will rejoice, "House of cards" has lots of them and they bring a very "soul-ish" and even funky touch to this record. 9 out of the 11 tunes are originals (3 of them instrumentals) and the harp is featured on 8 numbers (7 on diatonic and 1 on chromatic). Michael showcases a lot of taste in his playing and the proficient use of overblows allows for an inventive and very fluid phrasing. The only disappointment would be that some numbers would probably benefit from a little more space: guitar, horns, voice and harp sometimes step a little on each other, but frankly, with so many cards in his hand, who wouldn't understand that ? -XLC

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thecoots.jpg (3606 octets) The Coots -Message from the Seventh Dimension

Jim Fitting is a harp player with a sound. Unfortunately, he is also a harp player not often heard, and that's a real shame. His most famous project was the short-lived rock outfit "Treat Her Right" in the late 80s, in which he assumed harp duties over three albums, until the band split up and half its members founded the better known "Morphine". Jim seems to have spent the late 90s playing on other people's albums until this album came out. "The Coots" is a Boston band and you can hear that they have local following and are used to playing in bars. Their music is refreshingly unassuming and has a trippy quality that is accentuated by the absence of guitar in the line up and the strong presence of electric piano. The sound kinds of reminds me of early Doors, as on "Evening Prayer" or "Quiet Days in Cootsville". Fitting still has this powerful, menacing sound on diatonic, but he also shows here he's no slouch on chromatic, with an acoustic sound and lotos of reverb. If you like the Doors, or Treat Her Right, or harp that contributes to an overall atmosphere, you should like this ! -BF

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Paul Orta

Paul Orta - Port Arthur Tex/Mex Blues

Paul Orta is a landmark of the Texas blues harmonica. He's been playing for years, and this record is a 19 track compilation of his albums recorded between 86 and 96. He plays mainly amplified with a sound inspired by Little Walter's. This record is close to what one could expect from a texas blues album, except for one track, "Si Mi Quieres" which revisits on harmonica Paul's Mexican origins. It's not revolutionary, but it's fresh and makes for a nice change of pace. If you already like Paul Orta, then you know what to expect. If you don't and you like Texas blues, lend an ear...- BF


Kim Wilson - Smokin' Joint

As wide as today's world of traditional harp players may be, there's one individual that seems to occupy a very special place. Perfect blend of technique, good taste and mastery of many styles; gifted with a voice that many would die for, Kim Wilson is what most of us will never be ! His rare solo albums (3 in the past 8 years) had set the standards for a genre of blues probably as overdone as it is hard to master and a live recording was the missing piece in this discography. "Smokin' joint" is true to the Kim Wilson trademark. Whether it's the tunes covered here (early in the morning, oh baby, good time charlie,etc…) or musicians Kim picked for this record: it's all good taste and classicism. The 73min46s of this record offer a very good balance of swings, slow blues and shuffles. What's left in the end ? probably the feeling of being somehow ungratefull: we were expecting some sort of magic moment of blues harp history… and we only have a good blues record ! -XLC

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Papa John Kolstad & Wildman Mike Turk - Beans taste fine

There has probably been a lot of groundbreaking performers in history of music that have been left unnoticed by the public eye. "Wildman" Mike Turk is one of them and definitely not the least. Although he made a name for himself by mastering jazz on the chromatic, it's on the diatonic, on a 1975 live album recently reissued that Mike Turk entered harmonica history. Although the first recorded overblow goes back to 1927, Mike Turk's playing on this album stands out as real tour de force nonetheless especially if you consider his level of mastery of a technique that still scares a lot of contemporary harp players. Should I tell you that for this reason, all harp players should purchase this record ? That wouldn't be doing full justice to Mike Turk. Overblow or not, this albums is loaded with energy and fresh air. Mike's playing is full of presence, very creative and subtle and the artistic value of this record shouldn't be second to any technical prowess. I'm telling you, it's all good !-XLC

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Foscoe Jones - Live

This is not a harp album, and not meant to be even though harp player Michael Rubin is featured on every track, both on acoustic and amplified harps, diatonic and chromatic. Foscoe Jones is first and foremost an acoustic funky rock band with clever lyrics. Guitarist and singer Foscoe Jones has an unusual voice and a witty songwriting. His singing isn't always perfectly in tune, but I can't work out if that's the effect of the live (it's always tougher to sing in tune when you can't hear yourself) or if it would have been the same in the studio. Anyway, it seems to go down very well with the audience that was present the night this was recorded. Sound quality and accuracy are not always there, but the atmosphere is real nice. -BF

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Mo and the Reapers - Hot n' Spicy Blues
Mo and the Reapers is a blues band from the center of France lead by Mo Al Jaz' (vocals and harmonica) and Jean-Michel Borello (vocals and guitar). Their approach to blues is traditional even though the record features only originals. The repertoire frequents various styles, from the Swamp Blues of "Voodoo in my Head" to the false vintage acoustic recording of "My computer ain't workin' any more". Mo and the Reapers don't revolutionize blues, but considering they're a semi-amateur band, it's rather a good record. From a harmonica point of view though, it's not the best record you can get : Mo's playing is firmly entrenched in the Little Walter / Sonny Boy II school, with no specific voice of his own, which is a shame considering he probably has the talent to sound like himself...-BF

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Laurier and the Blues Drivers - Homemade

Laurier and the Blues Drivers is a hard-driving blues band from Québec. Their harp player, Steve Rousseau plays mainly amplified harp with a deep sound that fits the repertoire well. Unfortunately, on many tracks, he's mixed a little too low in the overall sound and thus not as audible as he would deserve. I hear that Laurier and the Blues Driver are one of the growing blues attractions of Québec, and it's well deserved. Their repertoire isn't increadibly original, but hopefully, they'll find a more distinctive voice by touring, something they seem to be doing frequently. -BF


El Fish & Roland - Waterbottle

During the year 2000, Filip Casteels, the guitarist and main singer from El Fish decides to leave the band, only a few months after the release of their "low rock" album Wisteria. It's a tough blow for El Fish, but the remaining members don't let it bring them down. quite quickly, they hire a veteran of the Belgian Folk and Blues scene : Roland van Campenhout. Together, they build up a repertoire and hit the road. Waterbottle is the result of this tour, recorded in four days, quasi-live in the studio. The result is a trippy-cheerful in between of the nearly experimental rock of Wisteria and the blues/swing debut of Blue Coffee. Steven de Bruyn is as adventurous as ever on the harmonica, even if he is not as present as he was in the early albums of El Fish. Still, there are a few very nice tracks like "The Chinaman in the Desert" with multi-layered low harps and a very nice southern rock remake of "Lack of Time", a song that was already on Wisteria but with a very different feel and instrumentation. -BF

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The Bloosers are one of these french bands that would rather search for inspiration between Chicago and the west coast of the fifties than in the "modern blues" masters such as Paul Butterfield, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the likes that already count (too?) many disciples on this side of the pond. This is clearly stated on the nice cover picture through little details reminiscent of a juke joint atmosphere and the first notes of the record confirm that impression.
The Bloosers managed to capture that elusive sound that a lot of bands loose when entering the studio and if you find yourself wishing for a little more punch and edge in the harp sound on occasion, the end result is still very pleasant.
Of the 14 cuts, the 2 originals fit very well with the 12 covers. The choice in the tunes gives a good balance between "classics" and "not-so-often-covered" tunes and the array of styles makes for a pretty entertaining set.
The vocals (in english) are quite convincing despite a slight "je ne sais quoi" of french accent on some of the slow numbers if you pay attention.
The harp manages to find its place in the mix, always there but with taste, true to this style that the bloosers like without trying to revolutionize it. A little acoustic sound or a number on the chromatic would have been nice to add some variety and to satisfy our curiousity but we'll have to wait for a future album to hear it.
In the end, this album proves that little by little, the west coast blues in france are finally coming out the shadow in wich they were kept much too long already.


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Blues Fools - On the move

The Blues Fools latest album (their 3rd) shows quite well the variety of styles that I've had the chance to hear when they came to play in Paris last november. The guys pretty much do it all:
Shuffle, swing, slow blues or funky and each band member demonstrates very good abilities.
Going from live to CD obviously induces some sound changes: Matyas' voice benefits from the change and finally shines as it should, especially on the couple of swing numbers where his smooth tone sometimes reminds me of Sting.
On the downside, the slow blues sound a little overproduced for my taste, particularly "soul stealin mama" where the keyboard intro flirts with pop music. The other songs are prety close to the live ambiance although they don't always capture the energy that the band shows onstage.
The two cuts that benefit the most from the studio sound are "foolin around" and "sharp dressed boogie boy": two swing numbers with very smooth sound where Matyas chromatic perfectly fits the bill and where the Blues fools really shine and show some potential.


Blues Wire - Steady Gig

SWithout a look at the musicians names in the liner notes, one wouldn't guess that this CD comes from Grece.
Elias Zaikos, George Bandoek, Sotiris Zissis and Alex Apostolakis remind us if needed that Blues don't have frontiers and that greek musicians don't necesseraly play bouzouki. Good for us.
First good surprise: Elias does a very good job at singing in English (and I'm actually not sure how English with a greek accent sounds like), his voice and phrasing sound quite honest and convincing.
Blues Wire put together a set of covers and originals for this CD that gives you a very good idea of what the band would sound like in a live situation.
Except for "Buy a dog", this CD is pretty much all electric with some acoustic harp on occasion.
George's style is very well suited for this kind of blues: effective, straight to the point and tasty. His acoustic playing showcases a very nice tone and unfortunately outlines the fact that the amplified sound is a little too overdriven for my taste and somehow "too far" in the mix.
In the end, you'll find this is a good CD to put in the greek section of your "world blues" discography.



Jean Sabot -

Celtic harmonica is a small world and aside from Phil, John and Pip Murphy, Brendan Power and Mick kinsella, few harmonica players have ventured in this style of music as their main act. About 4 or 5 years ago, I had the opportunity to hear bits and pieces of one of Jean Sabot's previous recording and as impressive as his playing was then, my memory had lost any trace of the name associated with such accurate and joyfull playing.
Life being full of good surprises, my memories have been brought back to me !
Celtic music being quite traditional by definition, one should not expect a revolutionof the genre; what we have here is a harmonica / fiddle album featuring originals as well as covers jigs and reels.
Jean opted for the retuned 10 holes diatonic approach, leaving aside the chromatic or other techniques such as overblows. Jean showcases a complete mastery of the instrument and style and his playing is fast, accurate, and full of ornementations: he's up there with the other masters of the genre. This record totally deserves its place amongst any harp celtic music discography.