Blues Bytes


December 2006

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Odell Harris
Searching for Odell Harris
Broke & Hungry Records

Odell Harris

One of the more interesting, and exciting, aspects of listening to the blues is when you get the opportunity to hear a musician that has somehow slipped through the cracks for years and years and has gone unrecorded and unnoticed. While this was more commonplace in the 1960s and ’70s, when “rediscovered” bluesmen like Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Son House, and others were popping up out of the woodwork, it’s a pleasant surprise when it happens today, given the current easier accessibility and availability of music via the internet and music/multimedia stores like Borders, Tower, Best Buy, etc. One would think that anyone capable of piecing together a coherent song would have ready access to a recording studio at their leisure, but that’s not the case.

Broke & Hungry Records, a new record label out of St. Louis headed by Jeff Konkel, recently released a wonderful CD by highly-touted, but seldom-recorded Bentonia, MS guitarist Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, one of the last purveyors of the Bentonia Blues sound first captured on record by Skip James and Jack Owens. Broke & Hungry’s sophomore effort features another hidden gem, North Mississippi native Odell Harris.

Harris is a native of the hill country region that spawned Fred McDowell, R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough and his music owes that trio a considerable debt, but he was also influenced by Albert King (a relative by marriage) and soul legend William Bell (a cousin), so his style is actually a mixture of the hill country rhythms with a serving of gritty Memphis blues.

In the past, the elusive Harris mostly confined his appearances to the occasional juke joint or front porch. After a strenuous effort to locate their man, Searching For Odell Harris was recorded by Broke & Hungry at a blues joint in Ocean Springs, MS, which is not usually considered a hotbed of blues activity by any means. However, the vibe was definitely present the night of recording, despite a raucous, sometimes hostile, crowd and some false starts along the way (all recounted in the amusing liner notes by Konkel).

The music is raw-edged and ragged and features a lot of the loose-limbed, funky hill country sound that sometimes threatens to spill over into chaos, with a nearly equal mix of solo tracks and band tracks. The song list is mostly traditional fare, including solo electric versions of “.44 Blues,” “Sitting On Top Of The World,” and a reworking of Kimbrough’s standard “All Night Long.” Harris also gives a nod to the Memphis sound with a hard-driving take on Junior Parker’s “Train I Ride” and to a sparse reworking of Little Milton’s “On Your Way Fishing,” and also takes on songs from the catalogs of Jimmy Reed (“Can’t Stand To See You Go”) and Bo Diddley (“Before You Accuse Me”) with equally satisfying results.

Harris’ own compositions are limited to two splendid instrumentals, the loping “Daylight Romp” and the self-explanatory “Hill Funk.”

Guitarist Bill Abel and drummer Lightnin’ Malcolm (both of whom assisted Big George Brock on his recent Cat Head release) make a great disc even better with their appearance on several tracks.

After recording this session, Harris has faded from view once again, but here’s hoping that Konkel makes the effort to find him for a follow-up. He deserves a medal for this initial effort. Searching For Odell Harris is as good a release of the real, un-distilled blues as you’ll hear this year, and should be required listening for blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke


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