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November 1997

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James Harman Band
Extra Napkins
Cannonball

Extra Napkins album coverFinally! I've been waiting for years for someone to re-release James Harman's classic album, Extra Napkins, on CD. First out in 1988 on vinyl on Rivera Records, this disc is the absolute pinnacle of the L.A.-based harmonica player's career.

Extra Napkins brought together the finest Southern California blues musicians in a number of recording sessions from 1985 through 1987, all playing straightahead, no-nonsense blues. Fronting these various ensembles is Harman, playing extraordinary harmonica and singing with his Alabama-accented, powerful vocals. Among the session players, some of whom are now better known than they were then, are guitarists Kid Ramos, Hollywood Fats and Junior Watson, pianists Gene Taylor and Fred Kaplan, bassist Willie J. Campbell, and drummers Stephen Hodges and Jimi Bott.

The album starts as it should, with a blistering harmonica riff from Harman on the original "It's Alright Now." Taylor's piano work helps to drive this fast-paced number. For a rawer sound, check out the cover of Howlin' Wolf's "All Night Boogie," with superb guitar picking by Ramos.

Harman then moves to a more uptown sound on "Party Girl," adding horns by Tom Fabre. The late Hollywood Fats chips in with very tasty T-bone Walker-style guitar. Another departure from the conventional is Harman's version of The Five Royales' "School Girl," complete with background vocals from The Wild Cards.

The title cut is a frantic instrumental featuring the sparser sound of Harman on harp, Watson on guitar, and Bott contributing a driving drum beat.

Harman does his best Elmore James imitation by shouting out "Let's cut it" at the beginning of "Hand In Hand," providing the cue for Ramos to launch into a killer slide guitar riff.

But the best cut of all just might be the version of Sonny Boy Williamson's slow blues "Sad To Be Alone." The band of Harman, Hollywood Fats, Ramos, Taylor and Hodges blend their individual sounds so well here.

Thanks to the new Cannonball Records for finally getting Extra Napkins back into distribution. You'll want to buy at least two copies --- one to play frequently, and the second for your safe deposit box on that proverbial desert island.

--- Bill Mitchell

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