It's rare indeed when reality lives up to hype, and with the buzz surrounding Dave Rotundo's debut approaching hyperbole, I had my doubts . . . doubts which promptly disappeared with the first few notes of "Blowin' For Broke."
Lovers of the "Mississippi Saxophone" will be in harmonica heaven with this one; better, it's the kind of disc that could convert non-fans into instant harp-o-holics. In all but the most skilled hands (or should that be mouths?), a little lickin' stick goes a long way; Dave's among the select few, one of those rare players who can sustain interest for as long as he chooses to keep blowin.' Not one for pyrotechnics, his is a lean, muscular approach, each note shaped and sculpted with care.
Every cut here is an original, and while there may not be any structural surprises - shuffles predominate and influences are pretty clear - Dave and friends manage to inject new life via infectious and energetic enthusiasm into even the most time-worn grooves.
"Make Up Your Mind" starts things off with a blast, Dave's fat, full-bodied harp supported by churning guitar and Julian Fauth's rumbling piano. "I'm Waiting" follows the standard rhumba/shuffle/rhumba pattern. "My Leg Is Shakin'" owes an obvious debt to Mark Hummel; little matter, it's such a cool tune Dave reprises it with "take two" later in the proceedings. "Bourbon Street Blues" is a chilling minor-key masterpiece that lets guitarist Peter Schmidt stretch out, his T-Bone inflected leads on this one contrasting nicely with the gutsy grinding of "I'm Into It" that follows. "P. T. Shuffle," one of two instrumentals, is a tough Texas-flavoured guitar workout that shows more than a little Funderburgh influence (I'd say Peter's every inch his equal), before the racous "Butt Bustin' Boogie" brings us back to 'party central.' Dave sings the slow blues of "Punching Bag Man" through the harp mic, giving it a menacing tone reminiscent of Howlin' Wolf. (True, Wolf didn't need a harp mic or anything else to get that effect, but hey, everyone else does!). The jazzy "Astro Van Blues" shows Dave equally at home on the chromatic, before the party comes to a close with the Hoochie Coochie-style "Devil In A Dress," the one point where Dave's vocals seem a little stretched.
Supporting musicians are uniformly excellent. Mr Schmidt's fretwork in particular is as good as it gets; he doesn't just play a solo, he constructs it with intelligence and taste, employing a storyteller's logic to bring each of his sonic excursions to a seemingly inevitable climax. Yet the way he gets there, the unexpected spaces he leaves, the twists and the turns and the exquisite tension he employs so well, render each of his solos a fascinating exercise in musical exploration. Mr. Fauth, too, proves an enviable asset, his rolling figures providing propulsive support while his solos sparkle, darting here and there throughout. Bassist Shane Scott (who recorded "Blowin' For Broke" at his own Bassline Studio) and drummer Walter Maclean are solid, unpretentious players.
Sound is well-nigh perfect, gritty and real. The harp is way out front where it should be, and the mix gives every instrument an almost palpable presence; close your eyes and it really does sound as though there's a live band between the speakers.
This one works on every level; as a harp showcase, as a solid slice of real and genuine blues, and as a rave-up for your next party. It's also one of the most auspicious and accomplished debuts I've ever heard.
My very highest recommendation!
E-Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.