The Right Man
D.K. Harrell was a new name to me when his debut
album, The RIght Man (Little Village), arrived digitally in my
email inbox. The media notes intrigued me primarily because it was
recorded at Kid Andersen's Greaseland hit factory in San Jose, and the
list of backing musicians is overwhelmingly good.
Then I started listening to The Right Man, and it
wasn't long before I proclaimed it to be the best album of the year.
Yes, I know, it's still very early to be casting in stone what will be
the top blues album for 2023, but I'll roll the dice that this one will
still be my choice come next January.
The 25-year-old Harrell has the potential to be the next
big thing in the blues world, especially since the young cat has only
been working professionally for four short years. During that time he
earned a 3rd place finish in the 2022 International Blues Challenge in
Memphis. He has a rich voice and a guitar style that borrows heavily
from B.B. King, with the ability to seamlessly move around multiple
sub-genres of the blues.
The Right Man contains 11 original compositions
(well, 10, really, but I'll explain later). Among the all-star cast of
backing musicians are Andersen (rhythm guitar), Jerry Jemmott (bass),
Tony Coleman (drums), and Jim Pugh (keyboards). Add a big horn section
and several notable background singers, and you've got what could be
considered an all-star band.
Kicking off this show is the title cut, "The Right Man,"
a B.B.-style mid-tempo shuffle with outstanding guitar work from
Harrell. He sings often of being the right man while his woman keeps
choosing the wrong man. I'm not on the nominating boards for any yearly
blues awards, but if I was I'd be pushing for "The Right Man" to be on
the docket for Best Song of the Year.
"You're A Queen" is danceable soul with a taste of funk,
followed by the slow blues "Get These Blues Out Of Me," highlighted by
subtle, tasteful piano from Pugh. Harrell might be singing this number
about himself, as a bluesman who's got the blues, with the recurring
line, "... I'm gonna sing 'til my voice is hoarse, gonna play with all
my force ...," hoping that this next gig will get the blues out from
The funky up-tempo blues, "You'd Be Amazed," covers
familiar blues songwriting territory as he tells those women not to
judge him too quickly --- "... don't judge a book, people, if you
haven't even read a page ..." Pugh absolutely tears it up on organ here.
Harrell dedicates the mid-tempo blues shuffle "While I'm Young" to his
grandfather who always advised him to make the most of his youth, and he
plans to "break a few hearts."
"Not Here For A Long Time" pumps out plenty of funky
energy on this rhythmic and danceable number. The reason I mentioned
that there were 10 instead of 11 original compositions is because there
are two versions of this song, Part 1 and Part 2, with the latter
rendition giving time for the various band members to stretch out on
solos. The real gem is the bass solo by Jemmott, who without a doubt is
one of the finest bass players still on the scene.
Between the two versions of "Not Here For A Long Time"
is a killer slow, soulful blues, "Hello Trouble," with hints of
influence from both B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland. Harrell sings
about that woman he can't resist but should, with his vocals showing
more range and power. A similar story is told on the funky blues, "Honey
Ain't So Sweet," coming from a woman named Honey who looks like a queen
bee. Harrell's blues guitar has a bit of Memphis in it here.
Harrell passes along good advice about how to deal with
our troubles and conflicts on the up-tempo blues "Leave It At The Door."
The album closes with "One For The Road," which I'm guessing is what he
plays at the end of all of his live shows. Pugh starts the number with a
slow organ solo before the song transitions into an up-tempo blues
shuffle that could come from B.B. King's discography. Harrell uses this
number to again recognize the primary band members, especially giving
Pugh an absolutely stunning organ solo which goes on for a while.
This native of Ruston, Louisiana should be taking the
blues world by storm for the next couple of years. If, like me, D.K.
Harrell is a new name to you, then use this album as a crash course on
learning all about this young man's blues.
--- Bill Mitchell