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CD REVIEW -- Kurt Crandall
GLT blues radio


Take It Off

Yesteryear Records


Kurt Crandall CD art

by Pierre Lacocque

1. 8th Event, 3:11; 2. Take It Off, 5:01; 3. Can’t Dance, 3:48; 4. Loser, 4:18; 5. Taquito Under My Seat, 5:21; 6. TV Mama, 4:38; 7. Dirty Pete, 4:17; 8. Figgy Bag, 3:50; 9. Why You Do, 4:00; 10. Bolivar Blues, 5:01.

Total Time: 44:00

All songs written and arranged by Kurt Crandall, except for TV Mama (L.W. Walker) and Bolivar Blues (Thelonious Monk).

          What immediately strikes you about Kurt’s Randall’s harmonica playing is that he does not rely on well-worn classical licks. While he has mastered the Chicago harp sound, he has also developed his own playing style. And he is exceptional at it.  

          First of all, there are only a handful of harmonica players out there today who have mastered the chromatic harmonica as well as Kurt Crandall has. His sound is full, precise, and melodic. His octave notes on the chromatic and diatonic harmonicas are pristine. They even sound like an accordion sometimes! Crandall tells me that he tends to create his songs on the piano first, and then tries to transpose his ideas to the harmonica. “Not always easy” he says, “sometimes I just cannot do it because they are too hard to be played on the harmonica. However this approach often works well for me.” (personal communication, August 5, 2016). That partly explains why his playing is so unique and fresh.

          Moreover, his diatonic blues harp playing is spectacular. Listen for example to one of his two instrumentals on the CD, “Figgy Bag”, and you cannot but appreciate his fat and tasty amplified blues harp playing. That song reminds me of one of my favorite blues jump instrumentals of all times called “WSKW Special”, written by Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Kim Wilson (released on Smith’s 1995 release, Bag Full Of Blues, Blind Pig Records, BPCD 5027). While the exciting feel is similar here, he gives us a masterful “harp attack”. There are no plagiarisms in his playing. Yes, on some songs you can hear Rice Miller’s (Sonny Boy II) influence as in the song “Why You Do” (reminiscent to his “Fattening Frogs For Snakes”, for instance) yet again, Crandall circumvents the easy harmonica clichés. And that goes for every musician you hear on this inspiring album.

          The 10 songs on Take It Off go by smoothly. They are well-crafted, with catchy arrangements and welcomed surprises. They also present insightful lyrics on what it is like to be human: like being down on your luck, being love-struck with a heptathlete (what an original idea!) or coping with being bald.

Guitar player Karl Angerer shines throughout with supportive and lead contributions. Quite an impressive player! The two drummers used for this session (Johnny Hott, four songs; and Aaron Binder, six songs) are blending so well with the band there are no bad moments that would disorient the listener. The band purrs. The bass players (also two of them: Steve Riggs, four songs; and Rusty Farmer, six songs) play acoustic bass which adds a palpable home feel. Finally, Bill Heid on piano and B-3 adds so much to the material. His musical presence is sweet and central to this band’s overall sound (check his delightful B-3 support and solo work on “Loser”).

          The musical material ranges from West Coast Swing, Rumbas (in both major and minor keys), Bossa Nova, Gospel-Blues, vintage Chicago Blues, Kansas City Jump, New Orleans Jazz, as well as straight traditional Jazz (check out Crandall’s crafty chromatic rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Bolivar Blues”, for instance). All delivered within a 44-minute set.

          Take It Off deserves to get lots of radio airplay. The band artfully navigates between the musical genres of vintage Chicago blues and jazz without missing a beat. To top it all, bandleader Kurt Crandall’s leads his quintet with his stellar playing.


For info or to buy the CD:

Pierre Lacocque is the bandleader/harmonica player/songwriter for Delmark Records artists Mississippi Heat.

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