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CD Review -- Chicago Blues Harmonica Project

 

CHICAGO BLUES HARMONICA PROJECT

Various Artists

More Rare Gems

Severn

Chicago Blues Harp Project CD art

By Mike O’Cull

            The Chicago Blues Harmonica Project is back with its second effort, More Rare Gems, which picks up where the first Harmonica Project CD, Diamonds In The Rough, left off. Once again, six Chicago harp players are spotlighted, each a hard-working real deal blues player who can be found on stage more nights than not, keeping their craft alive. This time, the lineup is Little Arthur Duncan (who passed away in 2008), Harmonica Hinds, Charlie Love, Reginald Cooper, Jeff Taylor, Russ Green, and Big D. Each player presented here is deeply rooted in Chicago blues and is deserving of wider acclaim, which we all know is hard to achieve, especially in the greater blues world. As one might expect in this sort of project, the sounds here are pretty traditional and old school. The backing band consists of stellar players known for their prowess in classic Chicago blues styles: Rick Kreher and Illinois Slim on guitars, Mark “Max” Brumbach on piano, bassist E.G. McDaniel and drummer Twist Turner.

            The recording seems to be an effort to document and preserve a playing style that many fear is being lost to the sands of time and to the modern musical marketplace. More Rare Gems surely it does a good job in that respect. It does have a bit of a museum-piece vibe to it at times, and no new ground is broken; rather, the CD is a good glimpse into the sounds made by players who still continue to live out the old ways of the blues and keep those traditions alive.

            The songs are what make this set interesting and there are a few winners to mention. Reginald Cooper, who may be new to many blues fans, gets things started with “Shade Tree Mechanic” in fine style. Harmonica Hinds and Charlie Love, both well-known in Chicago, deliver fine performances with Love turning in an especially strong effort on “The 12 Year Old Boy”, which gives the impression that Love may need to school a certain young man who seems to be his rival in the romance department. “Gangster Of Love,” which features Jeff Taylor on vocals and Russ Green on harp, is also a lot of fun and is probably the strongest tune on the album. This is not the record for those seeking more rock-influenced blues or John Popper-style harmonica pyrotechnics. Instead, this is a big helping of straight-up Chicago blues harmonica playing; the kind that helped put our fair city on the world’s musical map and has kept it there for many decades. Blues fans looking for this kind of traditional sound will find much to like here, as will those who are curious about Chicago’s current crop of harp players on the scene today. Hopefully, there will be a third edition to showcase even more of the city’s talent.

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