Forget the bill collectors knocking a hole in your door, eat macaroni and cheese for a few more days, and call in sick to work. Find this disc, turn on the stereo, and kick back with 25 tracks of harp masters who recorded the meat and potato blues here. They had it all; phrasing, tone, taste, and timing. With over 65 minutes of listening time, informative notes from Paul Jones, and great mastering, "Harp Blues," from the Ace label is one of the better compilations around.
There's no shortage of high profile harmonica wizards here with both Sonny Boys, Big and Little Walter, James Cotton, George Smith, and others present, but the crack-team at Ace included the likes of Papa Lightfoot, Little Willie Foster, Snooky Pryor, and Joe Hill Louis to make this a hands down winner. Lightfoot gets the opening slot with the furious "Wine, Women, Whiskey" from 1954, and Doctor Ross throws in his wicked "Chicago Breakdown," while Jerry McCain's "Steady" falls under the 'essential listening' category, but come to think of it, everything here does. Cousin Leroy's "Up The River," with its broken shuffle is mighty, and although credit has gone to Sonny Terry for the harp work, there seems to be some missing information. Little Walter's "Roller Coaster" is energetic beyond call and if you thought Jimmy Reed had a handle on the drunken march, give a listen to "A Fool No More" as Johnny Tucker fronts this little-known wonder. Willie Foster's "Little Girl" from the Cobra vaults is Chicago tough (although I disagree that Floyd Jones is the vocalist as pointed out in the liner notes), and Big Walter's "Easy," courtesy of Sun, remains as perhaps the finest example of tone ever put down on a record. Chicago Sunny Boy, or Joe Hill Louis, as he was more often called, is pure danger with his wild, trashcan-tone and mumbled vocal on "Western Union Man," and the closing ceremonies are handled by Snooky Pryor smoldering through "Boogie Twist."
I'd have preferred to go into detail on everything included, but find it for yourself, turn the volume up, and make the neighbors nervous. Junior Parker shows up, as does Wolf, Sammy Myers, Frank Frost, and many more. From a time when recording techniques were simple and players were a different breed, every track here is an impressive slice of the past. Spanning 21 years, 1948 - 1969, this is a party-and-a-half! Check out www.acerecords.co.uk or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, 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.