Big Harp George
Living In The City
Blues Mountain Records
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
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
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