James Harman is no stranger to making great records. Extra Napkins, Takin’ Chances and Cards On The Table have carved his legacy deep into the “modern West Coast” sound for not only being a great harp player and singer, but for having an impeccable eye for talent.
That legacy continues with the release of Lonesome Moon Trance (Pacific Blues Recording Co.) a spectacular album packed with a superstar lineup that reads like a who’s who of the Southern California blues scene, most of whom have been members of Harman’s band at some point in time.
James states in the liner notes that he does not record albums, but rather songs, and custom fits the players to each tune rather than using one band, as each player brings their own special gift to each number.
Full Moon Trance is a completely original endeavor of 12 numbers that are rich in not only musical content but social conscious and political awareness as well, then executed with the panache and vitality that James brings to all his recordings.
The opening “Double Hogback Growler” asserts what type of party this is going to be, with Harman growling out his distinctive vocals and blasting out a few slick harp runs, alongside Kid Ramos’ stinging solos and Tom Mahon’s flight-fingered piano, for a fun romp to get your blood circulating. The problems of today’s world, along with its lack of morality and one man's refusal to participate in it, gets close inspection on “Low Down Grown-up Jive,” a funky workout that features the pulsing piano work of Carl ‘Sonny’ Leland and the guitar wizardry of rising star Kirk ‘Eli’ Fletcher.
The album’s only instrumental, “Skeet-a little-Taste,” has the multi-talented Jeff Turmes playing “tortured” guitar and upright bass, along with Al West on drums and Harman bending out some grisly notes.
“Piecework Politician” proposes the notion of having politicians’ paychecks reflect the work they have done. We should all only live so long to witness this idea, presented as a mid-tempo number, highlighted by the rhythm section of Rick ‘Brother Miles’ Reed plunking the bass and new Mighty Flyer drummer Paul Fasulo adding some silky brushwork. The Paladins’ David Gonzalez trades some nasty guitar licks with Robert Eason on the strutting bop of “Alibi, Reason Why,” which may strike a nerve in all chronic liars of the heart.
A bit of lamentful slow blues is in store for you on “Miss Bessie Mae Blues,” and is dedicated to not only James’ departed dog (yes his dog) but also the piano player on this number, Tom Mahon, who is delicately brilliant. This number also features a rare listen to Kid Ramos playing acoustic. Stephen Hodges’ thundering drum work is at the forefront of “My Secret Escapde,” and Bob Margolin contributes some slippery slide to the slow drag of “Bad Luck Life,” a tune that is quickly becoming a personal favorite with its story of having more trouble than luck and whose point is solidly cemented by Harman’s drawling vocals.
The ragtime-ish stomp of “Love Stuff” is a terrific jam that boogies and grooves with fabulous solos by Harman, Sonny Leland and Kirk Fletcher, and is easily the hottest number on the album. Harman struts his harp chops to the fullest on the backward shuffling “Time Will Tell,” and receives optimal accompaniment by one of the industry’s best kept secrets on the 88s, Mr. Steve F’dor. It’s a complete toss up as to whose solo will make your ears bleed first, James’ harp or Junior Watson’s fierce guitar, exploding throughout “It’s Yo’ World (I’m Just Living In It).”
The title tune wraps things up, and I’m going to leave the listeners to discover it for themselves.
Besides great performances and content, this album is a complete pleasure to the ears, with a crisp, clean sound that deserves a big thumbs up to its co-producers, the man whose name is on the marquee, and Jerry Hall. I don’t think there has ever been a James Harman album that the two of them have not collaborated on. The professional respect they share comes through on every project, but this one in particular is pure musical art.
If you haven’t gotten your hands on this timeless masterwork yet, I highly recommend you do so. Pop on a pair of headphones, crank up the volume, prop your feet up and just remember as you listen that:”Evah thang gonna be alright, afterwhile!”
If James Harman should happen to ever read this review, I would personally like to say, “Thank You Baby” for a monumental piece of work.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
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