Blues Bytes


March/April 2019

Paul Oscher
Cool Cat
Blues Fidelity Recordings

Paul Oscher

As a teenager, Paul Oscher became the first white member of the Muddy Waters Blues Band in 1967, living in Waters’ house on Chicago’s South Side and sharing the basement with the legendary Otis Spann. He traveled the chitlin’ circuit and toured the world with Waters, even recording with the great man on the Chess label. His harmonica playing inspired many later performers, including William Clarke, Rick Estrin, and Jerry Portnoy. Oscher has also performed with a host of blues luminaries --- T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, Otis Spann, Buddy Guy, Louisiana Red, and many others, including Waters’ son Big Bill Morganfield, backing him on his debut recording, Rising Son, in 1999.

Oscher has also become highly regarded as a guitarist and pianist, and though he’s released his own albums sporadically over the years, they’ve always been high quality work. The same is true for Oscher’s latest release, Cool Cat (Blues Fidelity Recordings), an exceedingly impressive set that showcases all of his musical talents as well as his songwriting. He’s joined on these tracks by a fine cast of supporting musicians, including Kid Andersen, Mike Keller, Sarah Brown, Mighty Mike Schermer, and Miss Lavelle White.

The 13-song set is interesting, combining rough-hewn traditional blues with sophisticated R&B and jazz. The opener, “Money Makin’ Woman,” is a delightful foray into New Orleans second line rhythm and blues, while “Blues And Trouble” is a cool after-hours slow burner, and “Hide Out Baby” is a wild mid-tempo stroll that finds Oscher doubling on guitar and harmonica, the latter which he also masterfully incorporates into “Work That Stuff” as a second vocalist. The next tune is the album’s only cover, appropriately from Muddy Waters’ catalog, a bare bones read of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”

“Mississippi Poem” is as the title indicates, a short reading about the Magnolia State narrated by drummer Russell Lee, who also provides the vocal for the next song, “Ain’t That A Man,” a Delta-flavored tribute to James Cotton, and the fine straight-ahead “Poor Man Blues.” The incredible Miss Lavelle White makes her appearance on the album with a memorable performance on the spicy and unforgettable “Dirty Dealin’ Mama.”

The title track is actually present in several incarnations. “Cool Cat Prologue” is a story narrated by Oscher from his stays with Waters, segueing into a jazz quartet instrumental version with Oscher on piano, backed by Ernie Durawa on drums, Tomas Ramirez on tenor sax, and Chris Alvarez on bass (they also collaborate on the lively “On The Edge”). The other version closes the album, a funkier R&B take, which clocks in at about nine and a half minutes and features a vocal from Lisa Leuschner.

It’s a shame that Paul Oscher doesn’t record more often, but when he does it’s always a treat. His brand of blues mixes R&B and jazz, and is both traditional and contemporary. It’s also timeless. For any blues fan of either category, Cool Cat is well worth your time.

--- Graham Clarke



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