Blues Bytes

Surprise

November 2020

Big Harp George
Living In The City

Blues Mountain Records

Big Harp George

Big Harp George's Living In The City (Blues Mountain Records) wasn't a strong contender for the Surprise pick of the month until I gave it a second listen. While we've run reviews in Blues Bytes of his previous albums, this is the first time I've been able to hear his work.

Needless to say, the second time around for Living In The City just plain knocked me out. Recorded at northern California's Greasleand Studio, seemingly now the predominant hit maker in the blues world, this album is big, bold and brassy with lots of variety in the material. Let's go ahead and call it the "sleeper" album of the year.

Living In The City kicks off with one of its better cuts, "Build Myself An App," a novelty tune about musicians, like George, who can't make enough money in the music business. George instead announces that he's going to build himself an app, even though he currently has zero knowledge of how to program. What he does know how to do is how to blow a chromatic harmonica, which we hear after the horn section builds up that wall of sound. "Smoking Tires" is a mid-tempo blues that's kind of funky, and is highlighted by some dirty guitar notes from Greaseland head honcho Kid Andersen.

The title cut is a jazzy, late night blues that features a guitar solo from the late Little Charlie Baty, as well as vocal help from Lisa Leuschner Andersen and plenty of backing from the horn section, leading into the Latin-sounding "Heading Out To Italpu," with Paraguayan harp and violin from Carlos Reyes and flute and baritone sax by Ben Torres. George gets topical again in lamenting the burden of his medical bills on "Copayment," an up-tempo blues shuffle that features producer Chris Burns on organ and George himself coming in with a very nice harmonica solo from the upper register of the instrument.

Baty is back with a wonderful jazzy guitar solo full of tone on "Try Nice?," followed by the instrumental "Bayside Bounce," featuring Burns on piano and George returning to his chromatic harp. Supplementing the big sounds of the horn section is trombonist Mike Rinta who blows out a strong solo on the funky "Don't Talk!," and the entire bunch of horn players carry the up-tempo blues shuffle, "First Class Muck Up."

George and the band return to more of a Latin-ish rhythm on another novelty tune, "Chew Before You Swallow," with the star of our show blasting out still another mighty chromatic harmonica solo. Hot piano from Burns leads into the slow ballad, "Enrique," with the Sons of the Soul Revivers helping out with harmony vocals. "Pusher in a White Coat" spells out the hazards and costs to society of opioids, with George's vocals exceptionally strong on this slow, snaky blues. In fact, George's vocal work is still another strong point of the album, as he consistently shows good tone and range throughout.

Closing the album is another keeper, the quirky "Meet Me at the Fence," with native Palestinian Amal Murkus on vocals, as well her son Firas Zreik playing the qanun (a string instrument similar to a zither). This last tune solidifies the album as one that travels all over the place, even to the Middle East. Spectacular!

Big Harp George has presented us with an absolute gem of an album in Living In The City. It'll certainly make my Top Ten for 2020. Don't hesitate to add this one to your collection, and then play it often.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

 

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